Electric cars: the dream of solar charging – 06/27/2022 at 12:00


The “0”, the first production model of the start-up Lightyear, presented in Tudela on June 21, 2022 in northern Spain (AFP/CESAR MANSO)

Some start-ups but also automotive giants are starting to install solar panels on their new electric cars, promising a little extra range, but not yet eye-rolling.

Under the scorching sun of northern Spain, the “0”, the first production model from start-up Lightyear, gathers enough solar energy to drive more than 70 kilometers for free every day. Its front hood and long roof are covered with five square meters of solar panels.

Its founders, young Dutch engineers, won several solar-powered races in the Australian outback. Taking advantage of falling prices for photovoltaic panels and batteries, they are trying to apply this technology to everyday cars.

The very aerodynamic bodywork of the “0” and its motors integrated into the wheels allow it to consume less energy than the electric SUVs that dominate the market, and boast a range of 625 kilometers with load. Driving little, we could only turn it on in winter, promises the brand.

The digital panel of

The digital panel of the “0”, the first production model of the start-up Lightyear, presented in Tudela, June 21, 2022, in northern Spain (AFP/CESAR MANSO)

“The clock is ticking: we need to drive sustainably as quickly as possible,” one of its founders, Lex Hoefsloot, told AFP. “Charging stations remain a big obstacle. If we don’t need them, we can scale up much faster.”

Lightyear set the bar very high, with this first model built in less than 1,000 copies and boasting a Bentley price tag of €250,000. An affordable version, around 30,000 euros, is announced for 2024-2025.

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As the electric car market explodes, several models with solar panels are expected in the coming months. Toyota already offered panels on its hybrid Prius (optional) and on its first 100% electric car, the BZ4X. Ditto for Tesla’s prototype pickup, scheduled for 2023.

A pilot driving the

A pilot behind the wheel of the “0”, the first production model of start-up Lightyear, during its presentation in Tudela, June 21, 2022, in northern Spain (AFP/CESAR MANSO)

Mercedes equipped the roof of its luxurious EQXX prototype with photovoltaic cells that, with the same slender profile as the Lightyear, promise 1,000 kilometers of autonomy.

According to American researcher Gregory Nemet, “photovoltaic panels have become so cheap that even in areas with little sunlight, it is worth installing them.”

“Even if a car roof can’t fully charge the battery in a day, it can still accumulate enough energy to get you home from work,” said the University of Wisconsin energy scientist.

With a few hundred euros more per car, solar energy could at least offset the use of air conditioning, says Gautham Ram Chandra Mouli, an expert in electric mobility at the University of Delft in the Netherlands.

Be careful, however, where to park, warns the expert: the car obviously only recharges if it is outside, let alone in winter. Also, it recharges much better near the equator than in northern Europe.

Under the California sun, start-up Aptera is displaying 25,000 pre-orders of its first model due later in the year, a three-wheel, two-seater small car. Depending on the version, billed between 26,000 and 46,000 dollars, it displays between 400 and 1,600 kilometers of autonomy.

Another much more classic but also affordable and ambitious solar model is expected in Germany at the end of 2022: the Sion. This five-seater compact is cubic and all black, as it is fully covered with solar panels.

“We’ve developed technology that covers the entire car,” explains Jona Christians, co-director of the big German start-up that envisioned it, Sono Motors. With 18,000 registered pre-orders, they plan to produce 260,000 cars by 2030.

The Sion incorporates the “Vehicle-to-Grid” system, which allows its charged battery to return electricity to the grid when the sun is no longer shining.

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The “0”, the first production model of the start-up Lightyear, presented in Tudela on June 21, 2022 in northern Spain (AFP/CESAR MANSO)

The small manufacturer also plans to sell its solar technology to others, such as French refrigerated trailer group Chéreau.

Another Dutch brand, Squad Mobility, plans to launch license-free solar cars in 2023.

His boss, Robert Hoevers, a former Lightyear, sees the future of cars in the sun: “Panels will become even cheaper, electric motors more efficient: sooner or later we will drive every day on solar power.”

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