Think of never having to fuel your car again. You could bypass close calls with your gas gauge, forget having to add fuel-up time to your travel plans, and have extra wiggle room in your monthly budget. Sounds too good to be true, right?
All of these things would be true if you drove a vehicle that ran on energy that’s 100% free and renewable, like energy from the sun.
What are solar-powered cars all about and how far has their technology advanced? Check out Automotive Training Center’s article “Spotlight on Solar Cars” to find out!
How Solar Cars Work
Imbedded with hundreds of photovoltaic cells (PVCs) that work like tiny solar panels, solar cars are able to directly convert the sun’s energy into electricity. Due to the inconsistency of sunlight (think cloudy days and covered parking), solar cars require a combined powertrain made up of an electric motor and a battery. During sunny stretches, the electric motor is charged up for instant use while the battery builds power in reserve for night or cloudy day travel.
You can’t get much more natural than driving a car that’s powered by the sun. A car that runs on the sun’s rays has a zero emissions status, a clear boon to the environment that’s kept researchers and engineers in hot pursuit of refining modern solar technology.
Early Solar Models
The first solar-powered car prototype, the Sunmobile created in 1955 by William G. Cobb of General Motors, set the tone for future solar travel. The Sunmobile used 12 PVCs installed on the roof to power the vehicle. But, measuring in at only 15 inches, the Sunmobile was more of a toy car than a life-size model.
In order to effectively run on solar energy, early models required a light frame and compact size, a must that plagued solar engineers for nearly 60 years. There’s also the issue of heat: Solar-powered vehicles have the potential to become exceedingly hot during charge-up.
Working Out the Kinks
In 2013, a team of students from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands created the world’s first solar-powered family car named Stella. Built with family road trips in mind, Stella proved its potential as a true step forward in the solar realm, traveling 3,000 km (or 1,864 miles) and winning the World Solar Challenge in Australia.
Since then, a variety of concept cars have surfaced to work out these kinks. Toyota equipped a special model of the Prius with solar panels that automatically activate a fan to keep the vehicle cool when you park in the sun.
In 2014, Ford introduced the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept Car, a hybrid-electric-solar wonder. Multiple auto makers since then have implemented sun catchers into headlights or roof panels in order to help power auxiliary applications such as the radio or air conditioning.
Panels added here and there on concept cars may not seem like much, but they’re a definite precursor to larger projects, pointing to a sunny (if still far away) outlook for solar powered vehicles.
For more exciting auto industry explorations, check out Automotive Training Center’s eBooks and Resources.