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E-mobility E-cars with solar cells: how they work, which ones are available

No more refueling, no more plugging in: Ideally, the solar car needs neither liquid fuel nor mains power. First models could be launched in the coming decade.

Companies on the subject

The Dutch start-up lightyear wants to put a long-distance solar car on the road in 2021.

It would be a perfect combination: the electric car and the solar cell. The small photovoltaic power plants could make range anxiety and infrastructure deficits a thing of the past, and the vehicle batteries could alleviate the problem of storing solar energy. First solar-powered e-cars to hit the road soon.

Pioneer among automotive sun worshippers is the toyota prius. Since 2017, the plug-in hybrid version of the compact car has been available on request with a solar roof whose photovoltaic cells charge an additional battery during the day, which then supplies the electric motor with electricity during the subsequent journey. But there’s a catch: charging only works when the vehicle is stationary. When the prius drives, solar energy is lost unused. The modules can generate just five kilometers of additional electric range, and the vehicle costs just under 40 euros.000 euros. Those who order the prius plug-in without a solar roof will pay 37.550 euros and gets a few extras on top that the sun model lacks.

A Dutch start-up wants to put a long-distance solar car on the road in 2021

The Lightyear One is expected to cost around 150,000 euros

At over five meters long, the sedan reaches luxury-class level. The same applies to the interior, which is kept simple

The Sion is paved with solar cells all around

Problem for solar-powered cars: the efficiency is low

So the solar cell cannot yet show its full potential. Their principal appeal lies in making the e-car a bit independent of charging infrastructure. If you’re going to the country to relax, for example, you don’t have to worry about finding a power outlet right away, but can leave at least part of the energy procurement to your solar car. In the long term, this part of the car will probably become so large that the self-generated electricity will be sufficient at least for short-distance journeys.

Until now, insufficient efficiency has prevented the effective use of solar cells. In the most common variants, it is around 20 percent, so the cells convert only one-fifth of the sun’s energy into electrical energy. Because the solar modules are long-lasting and the sun’s rays come for free, this is not a fundamental problem, but it does lead to a lack of space. If the cells would be more efficient – with an efficiency towards 30 percent – you would need less of them. Around two square meters of surface area would then be sufficient to generate enough electricity for at least short distances. The cells could then be installed on the roof, hood or trunk of the car.

The electric car Lightyear One is a project of former students of the TU Eindhoven

Filling up on sunshine while driving

toyota is currently testing a prototype with improved solar technology. The body of the prototype now in use is paved with high-performance solar cells that have an efficiency of 34 percent and a rated output of 860 watts – and for the first time can also produce electricity while driving. The Japanese manufacturer is not yet saying how much it will cost and at what purchase price. Nor does it say when the technology will be available to customers.

It may not be long before the first real solar car is on the road. Munich-based e-car start-up sono motors plans to launch the sion small car at the end of 2020, with a body paved with photovoltaic cells as standard equipment. These provide 1.2 kW and are said to generate enough power for up to 34 kilometers of driving on a sunny summer day, or enough for three kilometers on an overcast december day. Unlike the prototypes, the 25.500-euro standard car can also be charged while driving, according to the manufacturer. If you need more electricity, you can recharge at a wall socket for up to 250 kilometers, but then you have to pay for it – solar energy, on the other hand, is free.

Storing renewable energy

In addition to the direct financial and practical benefits for the customer, the solar car has another bonus: it alleviates at least a little of the storage problem for renewable energy sources. If you wanted to use solar power at night, for example, you would have to store it somewhere – in the form of hydrogen, in pumped-storage power plants or in large batteries. With the electric car, this intermediate step is eliminated; the energy generated on site would also be stored directly on site. With the mobile solar cells, there is no need to rely on the stationary photovoltaic system at home, which can already be used to charge e-mobiles – but only in one’s own garage.

Especially when viewed from the side, the solar cells are barely noticeable

Up to 800 kilometers of electric range

The dutch company lightyear believes that the solar car could one day also go on long trips. The start-up, founded by students at the university of eindhoven, has developed a streamlined travel sedan with a solar outer skin. Under sunny conditions, around five square meters of solar cells will produce electricity for a twelve-kilometer drive per hour. over all seasons, lightyear promises to produce the equivalent of 20.000 kilometers. These figures are made possible not only by the efficiency of the solar cells used, but above all by the extremely low power consumption of the aeronymously optimized five-seater, which is said to be only 83 wh per kilometer. The competition calculates the consumption of their e-cars in double-digit kilowatt values.

A Dutch start-up wants to put a long-distance solar car on the road in 2021

The Lightyear One is expected to cost around 150,000 euros

With a length of over five meters, the sedan reaches luxury class level. The same applies to the simple interior

The Sion is paved with solar cells all around

If the sun’s rays or the time available are still not enough to fill the battery sufficiently, a normal charging plug for the power grid can help. In total, energy for up to 800 kilometers of travel is pumped into the batteries. However, the electricity can be used not only for driving, but also for supplying energy to external consumers or the household . Ideally, the energy-autonomous car would then become a flexible home power plant with an additional driving function. However, there is one drawback: at around 150.000 euros the future car called lightyear one announced for early 2021 is not quite cheap. After all, the expected low energy costs should allow annual savings at four-digit levels.

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