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Electric vehicles are viewed as one way of reducing the global impact of road travel; in most cases these cars have to be plugged in to charge their battery, which powers the car. But what if electric vehicles could use solar power to take some of the load of the battery and power things like the stereo or air conditioning?
The idea of putting photovoltaic cells on the latest generation of electric vehicles was initially ruled out; the power generated by the solar cells wouldn’t be enough to power the car alone, and it could take almost a month to fully charge the battery depending on the variability of the weather.
But every little helps as they say, and the power generated by photovoltaic cells could take some of the pressure of the main battery pack and power the interior lights, alarm and clock, or help cool the car, or recharge its batteries.
The roof and bonnet are obvious choices for positioning solar panels – particularly on days when the sun is blazing down. The photovoltaic cells gather energy at no cost, which could be sent directly to the battery if the car is electric, thus boosting its free electricity.
Manufacturers Using Solar Panels
There have been a handful of models from various manufacturers that have featured solar panels including:
- Toyota Prius plug-in: a solar panel on the roof charges the battery while the vehicle is parked. It also generates electricity on the move to power air conditioning and sat-nav to reduce the load on the main battery.
- Nissan Leaf: a solar panel on the roof spoiler generates a minimal charge which can be used to trickle-charge the battery and power interior lights etc.
- Audi A8: features a solar sunroof – solar cells encased in glass. Again, it doesn’t generate much power; it can power a fan to cool the car when switched off by moving the air through the car to prevent temperatures soaring but not enough to power air conditioning.
Audi and Nissan no longer manufacture cars with solar panels, although the former say they are working on more sophisticated technology that can be embedded into panoramic sunroofs that could one day generate enough power to charge the batteries of electric cars.
Kia and Hyundai – both owned by the latter – say they will offer solar panels on some cars from 2019. They intend to include three different versions, which will be placed on the bonnet and roof of selected models of:
- Hybrid vehicles; this first-generation system will be capable of charging a hybrid high voltage battery by 30-60% over the course of a normal day, depending on the weather.
- Petrol/diesel; this second-generation of solar cell will be a semi-transparent sunroof. It’ll be the world-first application of such technology and will be used to charge the battery under the bonnet which powers the starter motor and electrical.
- Fully-electric; photovoltaic panels on the roof and bonnet are currently undergoing testing. Although it’s unclear how much power they will produce, they aim to maximize the energy output and are in addition to plug-in charging.
Hyundai representatives say that this is the first of many different types of electricity-generating technology that will be integrated into vehicles, and is will enable cars to begin actively producing energy rather than simply passively consuming it.
Start-up company Sono Motors aim to launch a solar powered electric car in the second half of 2019; their solar charging system is in the final stages of development. The car – named Sion – will recharge as you drive and features solar cells integrated into the bodywork which will enable it to harvest power to convert into range while driving.
Around 330 photovoltaic cells adorn the roof, bonnet and sides of the car, which is likely to come in black as this allows the panels to function most effectively and remain hidden from view. The battery system – which can be charges via solar power, from conventional outlets and other electric cars – will offer a range of 250 km/155 miles before it will need recharging.
Photovoltaic cars will never be the next electric vehicle – they just don’t generate enough power to make the car function. Some manufacturers have stopped fitting their cars with solar cells, but those that do feature them are used to take some of the load off the main battery by powering the air-con or sat-nav – an important function, especially in electric cars where every little bit counts.
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