Solar Panels as an alternative to fuel-powered vehicles?

Automotive giants have already hopped onto the bandwagon and with new startups coming in every day, the shift towards electric mobility has become the talk of the auto industry.

Fossil-fuel-powered ICE vehicles are no more needed. In the technology-driven era and times where pollution has become a big reason to worry, moving on to substitutes has become the need of the hour. So, far electric vehicles are seen as the safest bet for greener and cleaner mobility alternatives. Automotive giants have already hopped onto the bandwagon and with new startups coming in every day, this shift towards electric mobility has become the talk of the auto industry. 

Going forward, when it comes to electric-powered vehicles, cars to be more specific, the battery storage is becoming a matter of concern. One logical idea could be placing solar panels on the roof of the car. This would generate energy that can be utilised for running the vehicle and would also be used to store extra energy in the battery that can be used once sunlight isn’t available. But is it a viable and practical option? 

Truth be told, solar panels on cars are not a new idea, it has a long history that started back in the mid-1950s and since then automakers have been trying to work on implementing the technology partially if not wholly. It was in August 1955 when a small 15-inches vehicle became the center of attraction at the General Motors Powerama auto show in Chicago, the first futuristic miniature that laid the foundation for a sustainable traveling concept. 

Understanding the studies conducted on the same, the conclusion indicates that even small sedans need at least 3.44 kilowatts of solar panels which would provide up to 800W of energy at max, this means installing at least 4 panels on the roof clearly suggesting changes in design. 

Surface area, therefore, would be insufficient and of course, compromising with the design structure seems a bit impractical for the time being. We do have the option of the currently available transparent panels but they are not very efficient in comparison to the silicon cells. Another factor would be the use of less prevalent photovoltaic cell technology, which is just limited to the racing world. This also implies that the cost would be an obstacle to rolling out this technology. Why would a buyer opt for a costly alternative when the industry is working with the ‘going budget-friendly’ notion. Seems tough to implement today, but the future holds immense potential and the practical implications of the usage of solar panels are being constantly worked upon by many big auto companies. 

Squad Mobility, a Dutch EV manufacturing company has already given it a try and has recently launched the Squad Solar City Car for pre-orders. The two-seater car is priced at €6,250 (Rs 5,21,079) and is equipped with solar panels that would provide 20kms of range per day. The car is available in Australia, the response would further decide the future sales and expansion of the car that offers a speed of 45kph. 

The list goes on with another solar-powered electric car, Sono Sion by Sono Motors. The Germany-based company has integrated 248 solar cells around the car’s body which would provide a range of up to 245km per week in peak conditions. The vehicle is under development since 2017 and with significant pre-bookings in hand, expects a launch, not before 2023. 

Another one on the list can be US-based Fisker Inc, the company which introduced the Ocean SUV with a solar roof last year and claims a promised range of around 2,500-3,000km per year. 

Lightyear Automotive also came up with solar-roofed automobiles. The advantage of Lightyear One mannequin has been the smooth design, a 60-kWh battery, and an exceptional vary of 710km but this also meant a costly deal.

Automobile giants like Mercedes-Benz have also given glimpses with the Vision EQXX concept, with 117 solar cells installed on the roof offering an additional range of up to 25km per day in ideal conditions. 

Even Hyundai went a step further with its Ioniq 5 Crossover SUV mannequin. The car has photo voltaic panels on its roof and includes two battery sizes and two drivetrains: AWD (All Wheel Drive) and RWD (Rear Wheel Drive). One customary 58 kWh battery provides around 200km/125 miles, and the 72.6 kWh long-range battery can give around 500km/310 miles.

The examples do hint toward using the solar energy but for now, there are a number of reasons for not relying on it. Keeping in view the rising need and popularity of EVs, issues related to range anxiety and long charging hours remain to be addressed soon. This has begun with the adaption of solar energy which makes charging electric vehicles faster. This calls for installing the solar panels directly on the body panels of the vehicle, which is a tough cookie to crack but seems a sure-shot solution as well. 

One way that has practical implications is using solar panels as a supplementary power source rather than relying on them completely. It can also be used to provide energy for other uses like powering the air conditioner, etc. instead of being consumed to actually move the vehicle.

The transition from ICE vehicles to electric alternatives has already taken a good pace, but full adoption still has a long way to go, especially for the Indian market. However, the acceptance rate for EVs has been massive in recent times and has been fueled by the popularity of recently launched vehicles like the Tata Nexon EV and the MG ZS EV, and many other global EVs from the luxury automakers. 

Read more about the Indian EVscape.


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