What is Solar Energy?
Solar power is a renewable energy that the sun generates in the form of thermal or electric energy. You can capture solar energy in several different ways, the most common being using photovoltaic solar panels. They convert the rays of the sun into usable electric energy. Apart from using PV cells to produce electricity, you can also use solar energy in thermal applications to heat fluids or indoor spaces.
Moreover, commercial and residential property owners can install solar heat water systems to take advantage of the sun’s energy with solar technology. Bell Labs, in 1954, developed the first silicon PV cell. Today, solar power holds enough capacity to power 11 million out of 126 million households in a state.
The increased interest in more sustainable and renewable energy systems gave rise to the demand for solar-powered cars. Several automobile companies are already working on building these cars. And the technology has the potential to change the future of automobile companies.
Solar-powered cars have batteries that can store solar energy. It allows these cars to run in the absence of direct sunlight or at nighttime. Solar-powered cars work by using the sun’s energy and converting it into electricity. Several solar panels are placed on the top surface of the vehicle. As per some estimates, by 2027, the solar car market could reach $689 billion.
Some of the benefits of running cars on solar energy include:
- Solar energy is free.
- Solar energy will never run out.
- Using solar energy means less usage of fossil fuels (which is a non-renewable resource).
- It does not cause any pollution.
Like every other thing, it has some cons as well, including:
- Solar equipment is very costly.
- Solar cells are less efficient, and for consumer cars, the collector areas are too big.
- You only have access to solar power during the day, and it even gets less on cloudy days.
- To store solar energy for cars, you need expensive batteries that make them able to run at night.
However, scientists are working on resolving these issues and developing more efficient and better models and designs. The high-density energy offering battery systems have now become the choice of the scientists of the auto industry. However, at the current stage, solar-powered cars are still not appropriate for daily transport.
How do Solar-Powered Cars Work?
A solar module (solar panel) allows particles of light or photons to excite electrons, which then generate the flow of electricity. Several photovoltaic cells (smaller units) link together and make solar panels. Each of these photovoltaic cells consists of two semiconducting materials, like silicon.
Furthermore, silicon is mixed with other materials, such as boron and phosphorus. It gives the semiconducting material a negative or positive charge and creates an electric field at the junctions between the layers.
The electron gets free when sunlight’s photon strikes it, and the electric field then pushes out that electron particle of the silicon junctions. These electrons are then collected by the metal-conductive plates on the cell sides, which are then transferred to wires. Like any other source of electricity, the electrons can flow at that point.
There are several advantages of using solar-powered cars. Some of them are:
- Environment friendly and is sustainable
- It does not cause air pollution or noise pollution.
- It saves money on fuel.
- Except for battery replacement, there are no additional costs.
Interesting Facts about Solar-Powered Cars
- Not only in the day, but solar-powered cars work at night as well. It is because the batteries of the solar-car conserve solar energy during the day.
- Some of the significant benefits of solar-powered cars include money-saving, no additional maintenance procedures other than battery replacement, environmental protections, and sun (a free energy source).
- The University of New South Wales Solar Racing Team built the fastest solar-powered car. The name of this car is Sunswift, and in 2011, Barton Mawer drove it in AustraliaSolar. It has a speed of 88.738 km/hr. The design is similar to the technology used in bicycles, automotive, aerospace, and alternative energy.
- Larry Perkins and Tholstrup are the first solar car racers on the Solar Trek in 1983 from Perth to Sydney. The name of the solar-powered car was Quiet Achiever.
- A solar car, powered directly by solar energy, is an electric car that uses PV (Photovoltaic) cells. They operate by converting solar energy into electric energy.
- The energy input amount into the car severely limits the design of a solar vehicle. The purpose behind the building of most of the solar-powered cars was the races. Exceptions include utility vehicles and a solar-powered car.
- The most notable solar-powered car races are the North American Solar Challenge, Tour de Sol (1985 in Switzerland), and World Solar Challenge. Organized in the USA, Solar Car Challenge is a race specifically for high school students. The prime purpose is to encourage the students to bring innovations and ideas in alternative energy, engineering, and technology. Hunt Oil Company and Dell sponsored it. And it takes place after two years of the education cycle.
Current Development in Solar-Powered Cars
General Motors made one of the first solar-powered cars, and in 1955, they showcased them at a convention in Chicago. Made of 12 selenium photovoltaic cells and a small Pooley electric motor, Sunmobile was a solar-powered 38 cm (15 inches) long prototype car. The Pooley electric motor rotated the rare wheel shaft by turning a pulley.
Sunmobile was the first-ever solar-powered car but was way too small to drive. Sono Motors built Sion, which is another unbelievable solar-powered car. According to the claims of the company, Sion is the first hybrid solar-electric vehicle that is available commercially. It has a range of up to 255 kilometers (160 miles).
Sion’s selling price is around $28,500, and it charges up to 80% in about 30 minutes at a charging station. The crucial point to note is that solar panels are intended to help the vehicle with charging. It is not designed and is not able to run on solar power only.
However, the companies like Hyundai, Toyota, and others are working on designing a hybrid version or fully functioning solar cars. There are other projects which are making automobile technology more enduring in the upcoming time.
Lightyear, a Dutch startup, unveiled its prototype of the solar-powered electric car, known as ‘Lightyear One.’ It boasts a range of 724 kilometers (450 miles) on a single charge. The selling price of the car will be around Euro 150,000. The fascinating thing will be if it lives up to what it claims about efficiency. The Lightyear is taking pre-orders for their first solar-powered car and is planning to start manufacturing by this year (2021).
With the current progress, we can say that solar-powered cars are the future of the automobile industry. The use of renewable energy and a pollution-free environment are the reasons for their popularity in the market. Although, solar-powered cars have some issues too, which scientists have yet to fix. But overall, they have a bright future and demand.