What exactly is a Solar Car?
A solar car or Solar Powered Car is a land transport solar vehicle. They combine, you’ll be fascinated to know, the kind of technology you’d expect to find in the aerospace with the sort of stuff you find on a bicycle. Up till 2011, solar cars were mostly for solar races and such like, but since then, they are slowly being adapted for everyday use on normal roads.
A solar car runs on the same photovoltaic cells which are being installed in households as solar energy, transforming the sunlight into electricity (not heat) in order to power your car. The reason why PVCs can do this is because they are made of semiconductors (silicon is the best one), that absorb sunlight. This frees up the electrons within the semiconductors, creating an electron flow. This is how the electricity that powers the battery is generated.
The History of Solar Cars
While there’s still some way to go before solar powered cars become common in car dealerships and so on, people have actually been building their own since the ?70s. One notable example is that of Ed Passerini, who completed his model in 1977 and called it the Bluebird. This was the first completely solar powered car, and was followed by Larry Perkins’s Quiet Achiever in 1982.
These homemade solar cars were mostly made for racing purposes, and still are (for example, the students of the University of Michigan just won a solar race where 23 universities from Canada, the US, Iran and India took part). Unfortunately, the cars developed by Mazda and Ford (we’ll tell you more about them in the next section) are still concept cars; you can’t actually take them out for a drive.
The Future of Solar Cars
Solar adaptations are being made to commercial automobiles slowly and carefully. For example, the Ford Reflex (2006) featured and installation of solar panels in its headlights. Similarly, the Mazda Senku (2005) included solar panels on the roof, which were used to help charge its battery. And the Cadillac Provoq of 2008 uses PVCs to power features such as interior lights and the sound system. And Venturi has quite recently created a three passenger car, especially for city use, which actually runs on a combination of wind, solar and battery power. This is a good combination because it covers all the bases, but it only runs at around 48 kilometers an hour.
In January, 2014, Ford announced that it had developed a model (still a concept model, mind you), that runs primarily on solar power, bringing the world one step closer to a vehicle that is completely independent of traditional energy sources. The challenge has always been not to create a solar car, but to create one which can be used every day and by more than one person.
How practical are Solar Powered Cars?
A single occupancy solar powered vehicle costs around one million dollars. Clearly, solar energy does not come cheap. So yes, they are very expensive. And then there is the fact that solar cars will serve no purpose whatsoever on rainy or overcast days, or at night. This is why any Solar Powered Car would also require a battery or a small engine, as a backup power system. A car cannot run purely on solar energy, unless it is also using a solar battery as a backup system.
There is still a long, long way to go before solar cars become viable for commercial use. For the time being, they are probably better off where they are, in solar car races, and research programs. For now, we can live with having solar powered accessories and sound systems, knowing that the day will come when a completely solar powered vehicle will be up for sale at the local car dealership. That day, we finally lose our dependence on fossil fuels. That day, we will take the next huge step into sustainable living.
The world is holding its breath for sustainable transportation, and making it affordable and available to all should be made a priority. Fossil fuels will no longer be necessary, and pollution can finally be reduced. We will be able to step into an energy efficient future.