Electric Cars: Will Solar Charging Dream Come True?

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

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.

Drive little, plug it in only in winter

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 a load. Driving little, we could only turn it on in winter, promises the brand.

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

Mercedes, a prototype and a range of 1000 km

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.

Mercedes equipped the roof of its luxurious EQXX prototype with photovoltaic cells that, with the same conical 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 sun it is worth installing them “.” Even if a car roof can’t fully charge the battery in a day, it can provide enough power to get you home from work. “Says this energy expert from the University of Wisconsin.

With an additional few hundred euros 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 (Netherlands).

Available models coming soon

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 has 25,000 pre-orders for its first model, due by the end of the year, a small, three-wheeled, two-seater 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 have developed a technology that allows you to cover the entire car “, explains Jona Christians, co-director of the great German start-up that conceived it, Sono Motors. With 18,000 registered pre-orders, they plan to produce 260,000 cars by 2030.

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

His boss Robert Hoevers, formerly of Lightyear, sees the future of cars in the sun: “ Panels will become even cheaper, electric motors more efficient: sooner or later, we will be using solar energy every day. »

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