The Solar Power Expert Blog

The Present State of Solar Automobile Technology

by GuestPoster - September 6th, 2012.
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With the recent popularity of electric cars, the prospect of weaning the modern motorist from the teat of non-renewable petroleum products seems almost attainable. With the use of electric cars and hybrids becoming popular and accepted, it is only logical for the consumer who is concerned about the environment to consider the next step. What if concerns about the efficiency of your used tyres would be pushed to the back of your mind? What about a vehicle powered by the ultimate renewable resource? Your answer is the sun.

How far away from this are we?

The Present State of Solar Technology

Unfortunately, vehicles that are completely powered by on-board solar panels are a long way from being practical. Such vehicles, in their current form, are typically used to demonstrate the future potential of solar power and as experimental engineering projects. One of the problems preventing vehicles powered by on-board solar panels from becoming practical is the limitations that come with the photovoltaic cells used to convert solar energy to electricity. They require much more space than is provided by standard car designs. Examples of present solar vehicles include the Tokai Challenger from Japan’s Tokai University. The Tokai Challenger is the single-passenger solar car that that won the World Solar Challenge in 2009 and 2011. The roughly six square meters of solar panel and the blade-like design for minimal drag make it unsuitable as a vehicle for the average motorist.

The fact that these cars are presently impractical does not mean that they will always be so. It is important to keep in mind that vehicles like the Tokai Challenger are being manufactured in partnership with automobile companies. They are being used to test concepts and innovations that may later be implemented in mass-produced vehicles.

The problem is that photovoltaic cells cannot generate enough electricity to be an adequate substitute for gasoline. This is the reason that solar vehicles like the Tokai challenger are designed the way they are, to maximize what little energy can be extracted from sunlight. Each element of the vehicle has to be designed with the energy limitations in mind, which means that more efficient and lighter components must be used so as to get as much value as possible from the available fuel.

The Design Principles of Solar Cars

Experimental vehicles such as the Tokai Challenger show several principles that are important for the motorist to get any real value from solar energy. The weight of the car and such factors as maintaining the correct tire pressure are among the many elements that go into making a vehicle more efficient. Rolling resistance is a vehicle’s ability to resist movement. Both tire tread and inflation affect rolling resistance, meaning that for cars to be as efficient as possible their tires will need to be properly inflated and have shallower tread depths.

The Importance of Developing Solar Car Technology

Transportation accounts for more than 60 per cent of the world’s oil consumption. Oil is not a renewable resource; hence the importance of developing technology to harness renewable energy sources such as sunlight. The automobile industry is an obvious starting point for any serious effort to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.

Upcoming developments in the world of solar powered automobiles include the solar powered charging station for electric cars from Princeton Satellite Systems, which will allow an electric car to be powered by the sun. The company’s SunStation can charge a 1.6 kilowatt battery in 10 hours. Present models of the Toyota Prius include solar packages that allow the car’s ventilation system to be powered by the sun.

Author: Matt Bonner is a motor enthusiast with more than one eye on the sustainable living market. Making his first steps in the oil pits of the mechanic’s garage, Matt now works for EasyWheels and does all he can to improve his standard of green living.

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