Could the future of road transportation be solar and electric? If solar electric car companies succeed, the answer is yes!
If there is an utopia worth fighting for, is it the mass-scale production and adoption of efficient zero-emission solar powered cars. Though we are still a few years from realizing this utopia, we are certainly well on the way!
Interestingly, neither electric cars or harnessing solar energy are new inventions. Electric cars were first developed in the late nineteenth century, only to be superseded by internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Despite the early popularity of electric cars, automotive manufacturers focused on mass production of ICE cars, given the cost advantage. As for modern solar cells, it is relatively more recent: 1954 Bell Labs.
However, it’s only been in recent times, that both these technologies have enjoyed a renaissance. The ‘drivers’ beyond the renewed interest in these technologies has been an increased awareness in the urgency related to air pollution and climate change.
Combining solar power with electric driving has the potential for formidable disruption to the current automotive landscape. Electric vehicles are already disruption transportation beyond our imagination to include emission-free battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and autonomous driving. The latest line-up of pure electric vehicles can now achieve over 200 miles (WLTP) on a single charge and in many cases over 300 miles.
Solar technology has also developed very well with significant utility scale generating power station globally. Total installed solar capacity is well over 500 GWs!
Start-ups like Netherlands based Lightyear are visionary and timely in their aspiration to develop production solar electric cars. However, Lightyear is not the only start-up aiming to place solar cells on the body of an electric vehicle to increase range. Sono Motors, based in Munich is in the process of developing a self-charging solar electric car, expected to be in production in 2022. The pure electric car, named the Sion, will be covered in solar panels.
Though skeptics are quick to point out that high efficiency solar cells are significant more expensive than solar panels used in utility scale i.e. making solar cars less affordable.
In our view, price challenges are significant challenges, but not insurmountable. A quick look at the cost of production of solar cells over the past 20 years, it is clear the significant price drops can be achieved.
However, the ability to have renewable and clean charging integrated in electric vehicles has the potential for large-scale adoption. There are significant advantages with a reduced dependency on charging infrastructure but above all, it is the reduced need to use grid connected power, which is still largely fossil fuel driven. Apart from that, given the emergence of bi-direction vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, there is significant potential to feed the grid with excess power from solar powered electric vehicles, such that dependence on dirty energy is further curtailed.
Lightyear One: Solar Car
- The all-wheel drive Lightyear One is a prototype long-range solar electric car with a zero-emission range of up to 450 miles (WLTP). The company unvelieved the prototype in 2019.
- Lightyear was founded in 2016 by engineering students from the University of Eindhoven, who had successfully won the solar-powered World Solar Challenge race in 2013, 2015 and 2017 (Solar Team Eindhoven).
- The prototype is capable of charging a range up to 354 miles (570 km) within an hour. The company has focused on reducing the weight of the vehicle by using lighter materials like aluminium and carbon fiber to achieve maximum range efficiency. The company also claims to have the best aerodynamic coefficient of any car on the market. Lightyear claims that the solar electric car will be capable of driving up to 450 miles (WLTP).
- The solar panels are placed on the roof and the hood of the vehicle. The solar cells cover five square metres of area and are placed unlike conventional solar cells, such that shade in one region of the solar roof will not restrict the harnessing of solar energy from the remaining part of the roof. The company further claims that Lightyear One solar cells produce up to 20% more energy than conventional solar cells.
- The solar car can charge up to 12 km an hour. The company estimates that given the weather conditions in the Netherlands, the solar car can be powered up to 40% of the mileage from solar energy. Charging at 3.7 kW EV can achieve a range of 35 km/h and at 22 kW, 209 km/h.
- The solar electric car can seat up to five adults. Two in the front and three at the back.
- The car has been designed for efficiency and not speed. It has four electric motors and can accelerates 0 to 100 km/h in 10 seconds.
- The all-electric Lightyear One is priced from £105,000 and can be booked online with a refundable EUR 4,000 deposit. The electric car company aims to manufacture 946 vehicles.
- Deliveries are expected to commence early and mid 2021, respectively in smaller volumes. However, the company aims to scale up production via key partnerships and aims to deliver up to 100,00 solar powered electric car per year from 2023. The company is also committed to making its solar car more price accessible and is aiming to achieve a retail price closer to EUR 50,000 as it achieves economies of scale.
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