A recent video on YouTube not only explains the math behind solar-powered electric vehicles, but also gave a lot of nuance on the subject. More importantly, it’s designed to be accessible to people who don’t follow electric vehicles like many of our readers do.
For those of you who don’t watch videos, or are at work or something and can’t watch a video, I’ll do a quick recap and then provide some of my own comments.
It starts by telling viewers the story of electric vehicles themselves, which is important. You can’t just say “solar-powered car” to the average person who drives a gas-powered vehicle today and make the topic make sense. Many people don’t understand that electric vehicles are growing in popularity, nor do they understand that they are much more efficient (because they don’t turn most of their energy into waste heat). He then talks about using solar power to charge electric vehicles using solar canopies and other solar parking facilities, which makes a lot of sense.
It then leads viewers to the next obvious question: if you can put panels on your car to charge it, why not just put them on the car? And, it does a great job of answering the question in a way that non-technical viewers can understand. But first, he takes a tour of the history of the solar car, it’s something we did here. Point? To show that solar vehicles have been around for decades and are improving as solar and battery technology improves. Back to the present, it goes ahead and runs the numbers, starting with the ideal, then adding all the limitations piece by piece to show why it’s hard to produce a lot of energy so that a solar EV can work.
But it does not stop there. By walking through the various solar electric vehicle options that are in various stages of production and pre-production, it shows that cars optimized for solar power and efficiency can produce a useful amount of energy that equates to a useful amount of autonomy. The two best vehicles for solar-powered driving end up being the Lightyear One and the Aptera, both of which produce enough power to cover many drivers’ daily needs using solar power alone.
His conclusion is that for traditional vehicles with normal shapes and construction methods, solar is not very useful. It can add a mile or two of range per day, or just help power auxiliary systems. But vehicles designed to run on solar power through higher efficiency and more solar cells are definitely worth making.
Bringing nuance to the solar car debate
Even among readers of Clean Technica, who tend to be big fans of clean energy, I’ve seen this debate turn sour. There are far too many unbridled optimists and people who think that vehicle-mounted solar power can’t be useful. For the latter group, the numbers for solar electric vehicles from 10-20 years ago are unverified, so it’s not possible in their minds. For unbridled optimists who want “all solar,” solar EVs make sense because they haven’t done any numbers at all and they just think they are cared for.
For solar cars to succeed commercially, we need to calibrate consumer expectations. We can’t just tell people solar cars are great, go buy one and expect people to like the idea. We also have to make it clear that you need a car that’s optimized to run on solar power so that it’s more than a virtuous signal to other drivers that you care about the environment a little more than other car owners. VE. If people know what they’re getting into and get a suitable solar vehicle, then we have no problem.
A “yes, but” answer isn’t as fun as a firm “yes” answer, and it’s certainly less satisfying. But complex truths (solar cars are good, but you have to have a very efficient car) are better than misleading half-truths (solar cars are great!).
Solar electric vehicles won’t be like this forever
One thing the video doesn’t say that is worth mentioning is the future of solar technology. Numbers for solar vehicles didn’t make sense a decade ago, and they’re starting to make sense for optimized designs. But what about 10 years in the future? 20 years?
The best panels commercially available today are just over 20% efficient, but that doesn’t mean solar technology doesn’t have room to grow. As I already underlined, solar test vehicles have been around for years with solar cells boasting over 30% efficiency. We’re also probably not far from commercially available panels approaching 50%. Researchers are working on even better technology that could bring us up to 90% efficiency, which would more than quadruple the power available.
When we get to the point where a solar vehicle can generate 3-4kW of electricity from its own roof, that’s basically level 2 charging speeds. Today, almost all electric vehicle owners s do very well with level 2 charging, with only the occasional level 3 charging for long trips. Since solar cars would still plug in when needed, this would put them on a par with today’s electric vehicles, making solar electric vehicles a viable option even if not optimized for efficiency. maximum.
I still think they are neat
At the same time, however, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I don’t “think they’re good”. Honestly, I don’t care if solar panels are useful. To even be able to tell that part of your ride is covered directly from the sun into my battery is cool. I think it would be even cooler to know how much of the drive went directly from the sun to the motor as well.
One thing I’m seriously considering doing when I get my Aptera (you can get one too, and save on your booking deposit here) take a low-speed drive across the country to see what I can do strictly with solar power. I would also like to see how much I can get away with e-bikes.
But I’m a fanatic and I understand that not everyone is a fanatic like me. We need to make sure that people who only use their car to get from point A to point B have the information they need and an affordable car.
Image featured by Aptera.
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