Solar Powered Vehicles – A Brief Introduction

With the world looking towards renewable energy resources to fulfil their needs, why not look towards the automotive and transport industry? The transport industry is responsible for a majority of the emissions and the fossil fuel consumption. So it makes sense to focus on this field for solar power.

Some would argue that electric cars are already in place and some solar panels doing the charging would indirectly mean solar cars. However, imagine charging your car on the go. Not needing to stop every few miles for a ‘solar station’ to charge your car with.

However, charging a car with solar energy poses one problem. The amount of conversion of the solar energy to the electric energy will not be all that high. Specially in cities with tall skyscrapers which don’t allow direct sunlight except around noon when the sun is directly overheard. This is what we are going to try and discuss in this article – the future of the automotive propulsion.


How would it work?

One of the main questions is how would solar energy power the car anyway? Solar panels are made of photovoltaic cells. These cells are made of semi-conductors that release electrical energy when some form of light energy is irradiated upon it. This causes the formation of electric current. This current in turn drives an electric motor thus propelling the car forward.


Hybrid Solar vehicles

Now, the concept of solar vehicles isn’t very new. Scientists have tried working on it for ages. However, as mentioned before, a problem arises dues to the amount of power that will be required to drive the car, its passengers and luggage forward. Thus, the scientists decided to make a compromise. The hybrid solar vehicle use both solar energy and fossil fuel to power itself. Unlike the hybrid electric vehicles, the solar power doesn’t have anything to do with the vehicle moving forward. The power from the fossil fuel does that. However, the solar power does help run all the electrical system in the car. It stores the energy from the sun and uses it as and when required by the car.


Fully Solar Vehicles

The manufacturing of a car which operates solely on solar panels would be hard. It would require the car to have a huge rooftop bedazzled with lots of solar panels. Moreover, it would not be capable of high speeds but, basic A to B commutes. ‘Stella’, a fully solar car was the first of its kind. It could travel 500 miles on a single charge of solar energy. However, the number of solar panels required to build this wasn’t pleasing to the eyes. It thus couldn’t enter the production stage. Hopefully with more aesthetically pleasing solar panels and higher energy conversion rate like Tesla’s Solar Roofing, the future of Fully Solar Powered vehicles seems bright.


Alternative modes of charging

Switching to solar for modes of transport may not necessarily mean that the car must have solar panels attached to it. Instead you can choose to charge your electric powered car with the help of solar panels. ReVision offers this technology. It helps you harness the energy acquired by solar panels fitted on your roof to charge your vehicle. Combining this technology with Tesla’s Powerwall and Solar Roofing, you have the recipe for the perfect green house.

Image source: ReVision Energy

Solar used in other modes of transportation

Cars is not the only thing that solar can power. As time progresses, more and more vehicles are opting to switch to solar energy, whether it is a complete transition or to power only auxiliary systems. Boats, busses, trains, you name it. Even a few aero planes are trying to make a shift to this renewable source. The international Space Station (ISS) already uses Solar energy as its main source of power. Such modes of transportation offer a lot of space for these solar panels to be fitted in. This helps them to gain as much energy as possible.

The ‘tindo’ bus service in Adelaide is the world’s first fully solar bus service. It uses Solar energy to provide for all its electrical needs including ventilation. On water, the Tûranor PlanetSolar became the largest and the first solar boat ever to circumnavigate the world. As for aerial transport goes, unmanned drones and manned gliders are being used that are powered by solar panels. Though these vehicles do not have the capability to scale very long distances, they prove that the future with solar powered transport is not too far away.


But what happens at night?

One of the major drawbacks of solar power is that it would only work when there is sufficiently bright sunlight. This is impossible unless you are Santa Claus in the north pole or a penguin in the south. So, what happens when there is no sunlight? How are you supposed to move around? Well the simple solution is that the car would get charged during the day when you drive around. More and more effective energy storing devices are being created. In a few decades, the power required to run your car will come in the shape of a AA battery. On the off chance that you don’t commute at all during the day and work the night shift, ReVision is here to help you. Just leave your car in the garage during the day and the solar panels on your roof will charge it for use at night.


Why Solar?

If you are wondering there are many other renewable sources of energy, so why solar? Here is a list of advantages that solar power would give you.

  1. Solar energy is available everywhere.
  2. It is absolutely free and requires no additional processing other than initial cost of solar panels.
  3. Solar powered vehicles create no emissions.
  4. They are also silent and thus noise pollution is reduced to a minimum.
  5. With improvements in a energy storage, your car will be able to drive around all day, come back home and then power your home at night.
  6. It is one of the safest forms of renewable energy and quite easy to  harness too.


The list could go on and on. It will all depend on how fast technology grows.


So, what’s the catch?

With great benefits, comes some major drawbacks. As you can see these options aren’t currently being mass produced. There are a number of drawbacks to these plans. One of the major problems with solar is that the initial investment is quite high. It also adds additional weight to the vehicle and thus the vehicle needs more power to operate. It is hard to generate a lot of energy in a little area using solar panels. Thus, it can be quite problematic with cars and other vehicles which rely on aerodynamics and body styling.


Here’s a video of a Ford Solar concept car –

As you can see there are both pros and cons to implementing these systems. But our world needs a bit of renewable energy resources now. It helps inspire future designers and technologists to make their own version. With some more time and research, the solar panels will become cheaper and much more customizable with high efficiency. And possibly one day, we will have a fully solar powered transportation system.