First Produced in 1984 - On sale in 2013

Most people have probably never seen one, but solar powered cars do exist. In fact, the first example was developed in 1984 by Greg Johanson and Joel Davidson. Reviews on the latest versions currently remain in general optimistic, yet at the same time acknowledging that the technology has some way to go before it can become a truly viable option.

Solar Energy Storage

Powered by batteries that charge and store energy when the electric motor is off, when in motion, electrical currents are passed to the electric motor. Battery packs are generally fully charged in around 30 hours and give a potential range of around 90km. If you need to just pop to the local store, then one hour of charging will take you a distance of approximately 5km

Photovoltaic Energy Collection Cells

The technology converts the sun into electricity using photovoltaic cells or PVCs. These cells can cost up to around $500 and generally the more expensive the cell, the better they are at converting the sun’s energy.

The PV cells can absorb up to 95% of the solar energy they are exposed to, but current technolgy restrictions mean that only between 14 and 17% is converted into electricity to power the vehicle. The battery packs can also be recharged within three hours if using a 220 V power outlet which is a useful way of cutting charge time if you are in a hurry.

Power to Weight Ratio Issues

Because of the need to keep these cars light in order to make efficient use of the stored energy, there is a catch 22 situation that developers need to overcome. For better energy storage and therefore increased range, a solar car would require more and bigger batteries. This in turn increases the weight of them. The obvious answer is that technology must find a more efficient way to store the energy without significantly increasing the weight. At the moment, this is one of the main issues that is holding back development.

Due to the  lightweight build required, the size must be restricted to a point that they become a nonviable option for most families.

Pros and Cons

The lightweight build required for efficiency brings safety into question as with current materials, they provide little protection in the event of an accident.

Contrary to what some people may believe, these vehicles are able to be driven on cloudy days and at night. The battery stores enough electricity to power them during these times but generally only for a short while.

Solar powered cars will also be appreciated by those who wish to conserve fuel resources, along with keeping the air clean as they do not produce any harmful emissions.

Although currently more expensive to operate at this time, drivers would not be able to deny the money that could be saved on increasingly high fuel costs and as operating costs come down and efficiency increases there is no doubt that in time, they will become financially viable.

Another definite pro on solar powered cars is the comfort. They do not contain a gas-powered and as such provide an extremely smooth ride, free from vibration. They are also extremely quiet to operate, cutting down on noise pollution.

Continued Development

Research on is continuously taking place. Universities and various organizations that contain engineers and future engineers are assisting in this endeavor by building and racing solar powered cars. The designs do not closely resemble the cars on the road today however, presenting another issue that is in the process of being refined. The cars have been able to drive across entire continents without one drop of fuel and at speeds of up to 50 mph.

Although solar powered cars are not yet sitting in driveways around the world, the time is fast appoaching when they will be available for purchase . Having said that, the Chinese Zhejiang 001 Group were reperesented at the Zhejiang International Bicycles and Electric Powered Cars Exhibition where they had 10 units of a  solar car based on the Chery QQ (which is actually a clone of the Daewoo Matiz) for sale. Offered at 38,000 yuan (about $5500) the sales price was unexpectedly low for a vehicle of this type.


Solar Powered Car For Sale in China

Solar Powered Car - For Sale in China at $5500

As fuel costs continue to increase, research will continue to gain more steam and one day, the opportunities for greener living and environmental sustainability that these vehicles represent should mean that they will be readily available and affordable for a drivers around the world

Flexible Solar Collection

Unisolar 128 Watt Flexible Solar Panel PV Laminate - 24 volt with quick connect cables. 216 inch x 15.5 inches - Peel & Stick
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