As the public grows more aware of the current climate crisis, the push for clean technology has increased along with it. According to the California Air Resources Board, "electricity and EVs are by far the lowest emission alternative fuel and clean vehicle option available," and will reduce emissions by 97% compared to gasoline-powered vehicles. However, they still have environmental costs. The electricity used to recharge EV batteries has to come from somewhere, and right now, most of the electricity generated by burning fossil fuels. So, what is the alternate left to charge the battery or run the vehicle & here comes the Solar Powered Cars.
What is a solar powered car?
Like solar-powered homes, solar cars harness energy from the sun by converting it into electricity. This electricity fuels the battery that runs the car's motor. Instead of using a battery, some solar cars direct the power straight to an electric motor. Great examples of the latest solar powered cars are the University of Michigan solar car, the MIT solar car, and the Berkeley solar car.
Solar cars use photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into energy. Photovoltaic cells are the components in solar panels that convert the sun's energy to electricity. They are made up of semiconductors, usually silicon that absorbs the light. The sun’s energy frees electrons in the semiconductors, creating a flow of electrons. That flow generates electricity that powers the battery and the specialized motor in solar cars.
Solar cars have some key benefits. Their solar panels work silently so they do not add to the noise pollution already on the road. Solar panels do not create greenhouse gases, as gasoline engines do. Most importantly, solar energy is free, widely available, and grants the solar car driver complete independence from foreign oil.
The Japanese electronics giant Panasonic has started producing a 180-watt array of solar cells that can be fixed to the roof of an automobile. In February 2017, Panasonic announced that its photovoltaic module would be used on the roof of Toyota Motor Corp.’s latest Prius plug-in hybrid.
This is Toyota’s second attempt to outfit a Prius with a solar roof. A Prius released back in 2009 had the option of a solar panel capable of producing 56 watts of power, but it was only used to charge the ventilation systems.
To come up with the panels needed for the new Prius, Panasonic engineers first began compiling a set of conditions and constraints they figured solar panels would face when affixed to the roof of a car instead of a house.
The list included constant vibration, the unpredictable appearance of shadows, and the limited amount of space for installation. Engineers also considered how to make panels fit the contours of a car’s roof instead of the flat surfaces found on residential rooftops.
Although no manufacturers have fully committed to mass-producing fully solar family-style sedans just yet, it’s obvious that the market is aware of the need for sustainable automobile options. Projects like Stella and the Toyota Prius’ solar features have proven the viability of solar energy within the transportation industry, and the push toward environmental consciousness won’t be letting up anytime soon. And whether or not the industry produces fully solar cars in the coming decades, one thing is certain: the future of sustainable transportation looks bright.