One of the big problems with solar vehicles is that there’s just not much room on a car to make that much power. With a super efficient car like an Aptera, you can get a meaningful amount of power from solar panels, mostly because the car doesn’t use that much power. But, if you don’t want your car to look like an airplane without wings or a weird science project, you can’t get that much actual range per hour of solar charging. However, an Australian professor came up with a better idea to power his Tesla off of solar panels alone: a printed solar panel that rolls up.
The Charge Around Australia project doesn’t aim to be the first EV excursion around Australia, or even the first trip around Australia on solar power. The point is to be the first vehicle that has gone around the continent in a normal car powered by an innovative new solar technology.
Adding solar to things is expensive. Not only do you need heavy solar panels (which cost a lot when you get more than a few of them), but you also need to use expensive labor to install them on heavy-duty brackets and wire them into the electrical grid and/or battery storage, which requires an electrician. Instead, the team aims to use solar panels that can be printed on a commercial printer, like a newspaper. These cheap solar panels are ultra thin and light, making them easy to roll up and put in a Tesla’s trunk or install on just about any surface.
By driving around a whole continent and getting press coverage, they hope to show that the low-cost printed solar cells can be used for important tasks, like getting around. When they stop for a charge, the team will unroll a long set of these solar cells, about 18 meters or 59 feet long, and several feet wide. This long roll of solar panels produces enough power to give the vehicle a decent Level 2 charge, enabling them to continue the journey.
Along the way, the team will be meeting with media outlets, visiting schools, and going to other public events to show off their rollup off-grid charger. Further, they’ll explain how the technology, which can reduce costs to $10 per square meter for solar, is a great way to put solar technology everywhere. If many more things in the built environment had solar cells on them, it would be possible to get a lot more renewable energy without expensive installations.
Personally, I find this to be a very exciting solar technology. On my idiotic adventures in rural areas in my Nissan LEAF, I sure could have used more access to Level 2 charging off-grid. Finding a public park, roadside bathroom, or other place to unroll a charging station would sure be nice. A decent Level 3 network would be better, of course, but this would have sure come in handy.
While I know the team is hoping to promote their solar technology, this would be a great first application for it. Not only would people in rural areas benefit, but people without access to EV charging at home could benefit from a quick and cheap way to get some energy into their electric car. RV owners would probably appreciate a 1 kW awning they can roll out to power things like air conditioning when boondocking, or camping where there aren’t electrical hookups.
The applications for this solar technology are endless, and I think that’s what they’re trying to spread the word about!
Featured Image: a screenshot from the Charge Across Australia website.