We previously wrote about an interesting project called the Lightyear One, a fully solar-powered electric car. The project just recently won the prestigious Climate Change Award at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
A Solar-Powered Car At Last?
We’ve heard plenty of rumors about solar-powered cars. They are the holy grail of the electric vehicle (EV) world, but as rare as unicorns. Still, the Dutch startup Lightyear is chasing after the elusive “car that charges itself” dream. According to the company, the solar-powered Lightyear One can drive for months on pure sunshine, supposedly having 400–800 km (250–500 miles) of range depending on circumstances and how you drive, of course.
The problem with current solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is that solar panels will give you a 30–33% efficiency in a best case scenario. That means less than a third of the sunlight it receives is used to move those electrons in the solar cells. Although there have been a lot of solar PV breakthroughs, they are mostly confined to laboratories. One such break was a tantalizing system that used an infrared layer below the solar cells to capture the heat of the sun. This boosted the efficiency of the PV to about 80%. Again, however, these tests are done in lab conditions and have not been applied to everyday use — and it’s not clear if they ever can be.
Ford, Fisker, Toyota, and a handful of carmakers have used PV to boost the capabilities of their hybrids and plug-in hybrids (PHEV), but the extra energy was mostly used to power ancillaries such are lights and audio systems. We were present at the media presentation of the Ford C-Max Solar Energi a few years ago. As great as the project was, PV technology needs to improve a lot more before it can power a “normal” electric car.
In the meantime, a more practical approach would be to use a solar carport or one with a magnifying glass overhead to condense and maximize sunlight intake.
Lightyear One Is Driving On Sun Power For Next Year
Lightyear hopes to have 10 Lightyear One cars by 2019, something we are extremely eager to see. And if like us you are wondering what new acronym we’ll have to learn to describe these kinds of solar-powered cars, fear not, there is one. How about Solar Assisted Electric Vehicle (SAEV)? Hmm, a bit bulky?
As to the question whether solar powered vehicles can really be practical yet? Futurism wrote about the first solar-powered train in Australia recently, from the Byron Bay Railroad Company. Yes, it has a very limited, but hopeful, 1.9 km (3 mile) route. The converted train seats 100 seated passengers, additional standing room for passengers, wheelchair access, a luggage room for bikes and prams (and surfboards) — all carried free of charge. It uses solar energy to recharge its 77 kWh battery pack.
As Steve Hanley wrote previously, the Lightyear One is an interesting idea and points to something that will have to happen with mobility, one way or another. Should you be interested in driving on pure sunshine, it will set you back €119,000 excluding taxes (~$145,619). Not cheap.
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