Solar panels produce electricity wherever and whenever the sun is shining. As electric cars continue to increase in popularity, it only makes sense that some companies have begun exploring the possibility of integrating solar panels directly into cars to provide power on the go. Imagine how much further you could drive in your electric vehicle (EV) if it was charging its battery with solar panels while you were driving! In this article, we’ll take a look at how feasible solar panel cars actually are, and if you’ll be able to buy one anytime soon.
- No entirely solar-powered cars are available for purchase in the United States; the technology continues to improve at a slow pace and most cars are in the pre-order stage.
- There are multiple companies working on different solar powered cars, and hopefully someday in the future there will be solar powered cars in driveways and on roads near you.
- Even if you don’t have a solar panel car, you can power an energy-efficient electric car with solar panels! Head to the EnergySage Marketplace to receive multiple quotes for installing solar on your property.
What’s in this article?
- Will solar panel cars ever be a viable option?
- How do solar panel cars work?
- Companies designing solar panel cars
- The future of solar panel cars
Will solar panel cars ever be a viable option?
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 are some options for hybrid cars that can run on gas, electricity, and power that they generate from their own solar panels, but companies like Sono Motors and Lightyear 0 have promised cars that can potentially 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 nearly 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 – and 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 completely out of the question. 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.
How do 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.
Companies designing solar panel cars
There are a few companies working on cars with integrated solar panels. Nothing is available on the market quite yet, but like the early days of the Tesla and other electric vehicles, many of these cars are available to preorder, and you can place yourself at the top of the list to purchase one once they do become available. Let’s take a look at some of the companies with solar panel cars that could hit the roads soon.
In August of 2019, Hyundai announced that they are releasing a version of their Sonata Hybrid that has integrated solar panels. The car can run on gasoline, electricity, and the power it generates from its own roof made out of solar panels. Initially only released in South Korea, it is now available in North America, and currently gets up to 700 additional miles per year from its solar panel roof.
Sono Motors is a German startup working to produce a “car that charges itself.” Known as the Sion, the expected start of production on this solar car is supposed to be in 2023 and it will feature 330 integrated solar cells all over, from the roof, to the side doors, to the back. According to Sono Motors, these integrated cells will provide an extra 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) of range.
Lightyear, a Dutch startup, has begun production on its lead product, a combination of EV and solar car called the Lightyear 0. Lightyear’s solar car comes 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 0 will be capable of traveling between 8,000 and 10,000 kilometers a year on solar energy alone. At this time, the Lightyear 0 is only available for pre-order in the UK, EU, Switzerland, and Norway.
Toyota actually has a car available with solar cells installed, currently available only in Japan. The Toyota Prius Prime comes with an optional solar panel roof made by solar manufacturer Panasonic in Japan. Toyota says the integrated solar cells can add up to 3.7 miles of driving range per day (while parked). As of right now, the Prius Prime with a solar roof is not coming to the United States anytime soon.
Currently still seeking investors, the startup Aptera Motors is seeking to create a three-wheeled solar-powered vehicle that operates entirely on power generated from its rooftop solar panels, maximizing efficiency.
Audi & Volkswagen
Both Audi and Volkswagen have partnered with Israel-based Apollo Power, attempting to leverage their flexible solar panel technology to power vehicles. In October of 2021, Volkswagen ordered a solar car concept from Apollo, and their project with Audi was awarded the JEC Innovation Award.
What’s the future of solar panel cars?
Solar panel cars will hopefully have an important role to play in the future of clean transportation. Although the number of EVs on the road continues to steadily increase each year, many consumers are still concerned about the range they can drive on a single charge. A study published in Nature in spring 2022 argued that this problem was more psychological than technological, and people grossly underestimate the range capabilities of EVs based on outdated information. Almost all EVs have mileage ranges well within the typical driving distance that the average driver needs to travel in a day. Issues are more likely to arise when you need to travel longer distances – like if you need to visit your family that lives eight-hours away for Thanksgiving – along routes with limited charing options.
Importantly, this is becoming less of an issue as EV charging infrastructure expands across the country and EV adoption increases. In the United States, California recently adopted rules that will ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 and Washington and Massachusetts have both followed suit with trigger laws. In the past, other states have followed the lead of California when it comes to emissions regulations, and if that continues to be the case, more and more car shoppers will be faced with the option to either purchase an EV or buy their car out of state.
Ultimately, the additional charging capability of a solar roof could be the necessary tipping point for those with concerns about EV driving range – if you’re charging your EV with your solar roof as you drive, you’d be able to drive further on one charge, potentially reducing range anxiety. Thus, if EV manufacturers can supplement their cars’ electric batteries with solar panels, more consumers might have increased confidence in purchasing their first EV.
Power your EV with the sun
While solar panel car technology currently remains inefficient and impractical, you can still power your electric car with the sun by installing a solar panel system on your property. The best way to shop for solar is to compare quotes from local installers on the EnergySage Marketplace, where you can receive competitive quotes for a solar installation on your property. If you’re interested in powering an EV as well, you can leave a note in your profile to let installers know that you want to increase the size of your system to cover the expected electricity usage.