Solar panels can produce electricity wherever the sun is shining. As electric cars continue to increase in popularity, some companies have begun exploring the possibility of integrating solar panels directly into cars to provide power on the go. In this article, we’ll take a look at how feasible solar panel cars actually are, and if you should consider buying one once they’re available.
Solar panel cars: will they ever be a legitimate product?
The term “solar panel car” is generally used to describe any vehicle that has solar cells integrated into its design to provide extra energy on the go. There aren’t commercially-available cars with this type of integrated solar technology just yet, but companies like Sono Motors and LightyearOne have promised cars that can partially or potentially even completely charge themselves with solar.
Unfortunately, solar panel cars face some significant barriers to becoming a reality for car shoppers. First, the amount of energy that can be produced by a car with solar panels on it is likely not near enough to power the entire car. Given that solar panels convert sunlight to usable electricity just around 20 percent at the upper end, a car covered in solar cells might be able to produce enough energy each day to power an electric car for about 20 to 25 miles. That’s assuming a full day’s worth of sunlight, no clouds, no dust blocking the solar cells, and perfectly oriented solar cells on the car.
However, this doesn’t mean that solar panel cars are a completely obscure idea. For drivers in sunny states with short commutes, solar cells integrated into cars could be a way to get a few extra miles of driving on the sun’s power alone. Time will tell, as there are hardly any companies currently investing in solar panel cars.
Companies making solar panel cars
There are a few companies working on initial versions of cars with integrated solar panels. Below, we’ll go through some of the manufacturers who have recently made the news.
Sono Motors is a German startup working to produce a car that runs on the sun’s energy. Known as the Sion, the car is scheduled to become available at some point in 2019 and will feature 330 integrated solar cells all over, from the roof to the side doors to the back. These integrated cells are promised to provide an extra 30 kilometers of range according to the company.
A Dutch startup, Lightyear, is working to have a solar panel car on the road in 2020. Known as the Lightyear One, their solar car will come with either 400 or 800 kilometers of range, plus whatever extra energy the integrated solar cells can feed into the car’s battery. According to the company, the Lightyear One will be capable of traveling between 8,000 and 10,000 kilometers a year on solar energy alone.
Toyota actually has a car available with solar cells installed, currently available only in Japan. With a solar panel roof made by solar manufacturer Panasonic, the Toyota Prius Prime comes with a solar roof version in Japan. Toyota says the integrated solar cells can add up to 3.7 miles of driving range per day (while parked).
In August of 2019, Hyundai announced that they are releasing a version of their Sonata hybrid that has integrated solar panels. Initially only available in South Korea, the company has plans to release the car in North America. Hyundai notes that 30 to 60 percent of the car’s battery could be charged using the solar panel technology. They also plan to introduce solar cells to other vehicles in their lineup in the coming years.
How solar panel cars work
If solar panel cars could become effective and efficient, the technology would work in a similar way to a home solar panel installation. Just like home solar panels are usually rooftop-mounted, a solar panel car has solar cells installed on the exterior of the car where the sun’s rays hit. These solar cells convert sunlight to electricity that can then be used to recharge an electric vehicle battery, similar to how home solar panels provide electricity for home appliances like televisions and refrigerators.
You can power electric cars with the sun and home solar panels
While solar panel car technology remains inefficient and impractical, you can still power your electric car with the sun if you install a solar panel system on your property. If you have an electric vehicle, the electricity needed to charge up at home with an electric vehicle charger can be provided by a solar panel installation.
Solar panels don’t just work for powering electric vehicles – you can offset your home appliance electricity use with a rooftop or ground-mounted solar installation. The best way to shop for solar is to compare quotes from local installers on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, where you can receive competitive quotes for a solar installation on your property. If you are interested in powering an electric vehicle as well, you can leave a note in your profile to let installers know that you want to increase the size of your system and cover the expected electricity usage from an EV.