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Stella Vita solar-powered RV
Stella Vita solar-powered RV (Image by Bart van Overbeeke and Solar Team Eindhoven)

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Just Being An EV Isn’t Good Enough — We Need To Demand More (Part 2)

This is the second half of a two-part article. You can find Part 1 here.

Getting More Efficiency in Recreational Vehicles

When it comes to recreation, more efficient alternatives are well within the realm of possibility. Students recently proved that a small but very functional RV could work strictly on solar power, so clearly there’s a lot of room for improvement over the giant boxy motorhomes and travel trailers we’re used to seeing today. By making them more aerodynamic, lighter, and partially collapsible, RVs of any size could probably be built with great range and at least some solar capabilities.

Once again, these more efficient solutions can’t cover all needs (people towing boats, traveling with large families, etc., will struggle to fit in a tiny eco-RV), but we should be actively encouraging manufacturers and customers to adopt better solutions whenever possible.

Idea #2: We Should Expect Manufacturers, Cities, & Property Owners To Meaningfully Use Solar As Much As Possible & As Directly As Possible

Solar power is another thing we should be encouraging more of. Obviously, today’s EV fans are also big fans of this (especially Tesla fans), but we need to encourage the industry to take it to the next level in several ways beyond putting solar on the roofs of homes and businesses.

One thing we need to encourage more in the industry is Level 1 and Level 2 solar-powered charging not only at home, but at work, and in parking lots. Everyone should ideally have access to solar-powered charging someplace where their cars tend to sit a lot so that they can have the cleanest possible power.

This charging should happen during the day from on-site solar panels as much as possible. Why? Because conversion losses suck. Sure, you can put in a charging station and purchase solar power from elsewhere on the grid, but that power starts as DC power in the panels and cells, gets converted to AC power for transmission across the lines (where some is lost to heat), and then converted back to DC power at the end to charge the car’s battery pack. At each step, power is wasted, and it’s even worse if you need to store daytime power in a battery pack to charge your car at night.

You couldn’t get much better than solar on the car itself, and that’s becoming more and more viable. The best commercially-available cells transform just under 23% of the solar energy that strikes them into electricity, but testing is already underway for panels that transform almost half of that energy into electricity. Up to about 90% is known to be possible, which would mean that a car’s surface could produce up to around 3 kW of power, and something larger like a truck or RV could produce significantly more.

Even with today’s technology, about 300 watts is readily possible on a vehicle’s roof, and 700-1000 watts is possible with every up-facing surface covered. Add a folding mechanism, like the students have on their experimental solar RV, and you can pick up even more power.

So yes, it does make sense to push automakers to include solar as the technology continues to improve this decade. Routinely plugging cars in to charge should eventually become a thing of the past.

Idea #3: We Should Expect EV Manufacturers To Go Beyond Cars

I know many readers dream of a future where all cars are electric and autonomous, but that alone can’t be the whole solution. If Uber has taught us anything, it’s that throwing more cars at a problem doesn’t relieve congestion or free up parking space. If we want cars to succeed, we need to encourage manufacturers to treat them as part of an ecosystem and not the whole door-to-door solution in every case.

One small way this could happen is by encouraging people to use micromobility more. Scooters, e-bikes, and other forms of micromobility all produce less emissions than an electric car, and they’re easier to get into crowded cities with in many cases.

Auto manufacturers probably don’t want to give away their dominance of the market, but they can do things to at least play more friendly with other forms of transport. Some cars could have built-in storage for micromobility devices so that you can feel like it’s a good option if you encounter congested areas. They could also integrate the possibility of using micromobility transport options into their planning apps.

While automakers are integrating non-automotive transport into trip planners, it also makes sense to include transit into planning software. For example, it would definitely be cheaper and possibly to be faster to cross a city if your robotaxi app recommended hitching a ride to the train station on one robotaxi, riding the train, and taking a second robotaxi from the station to your friend’s door.

It may even be better for cities to only allow robotaxis to operate in their areas if they do something like this. Nobody should be forced to ride transit if they don’t want to, but by offering a hybrid trip as something that saves time and money for all involved, it would at least be considered by a robotaxi network’s users and not looked at as a joke.

For people outside of cities in the United States, cars will likely continue to be the best option, but inter-operating with transportation systems when you visit a city makes sense not only for the city, but for visitors, too.

Final Thoughts

If we can get manufacturers of all vehicles to keep finding ways to be more efficient, find more ways to integrate solar power into the car’s operation, and play nicer in a wider ecosystem in cities, we’d be a lot better off in 2030 than we are today.

If we fail to do that, the EV transition could fail under its own weight. If everyone wanted to put in 200 kWh of battery in every car, the opportunity to sell many electric cars at more affordable price points would be lost. We’d also see a lot more unnecessary mining to build them. If we really care about the environment, we really don’t want any of that.

Featured image: Stella Vita solar-powered RV (Image by Bart van Overbeeke and Solar Team Eindhoven)

 
 
 
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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba

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