Now that more EV charging stations are available, new opportunities for longer EV road trips are opening up. Bringing along some basic solar powered accessories can help with roadside emergencies as well as lights, mini-fridges, and other off-road equipment, too. Here are some goodies we’ve spotted along the way — and a chance to do good, too.
Best of the Best: The WakaWaka Solar Powered Flashlight
CleanTechnica discovered the WakaWaka portable, solar powered flashlight ten years ago, when a test sample arrived in the mail. The compact but powerful PV panel can double as a desk lamp and a phone charger, too. Here’s what we said back in 2013:
“If you’ve never used a portable solar powered charger before, the experience is kind of like being hit over the head with a hammer — but in a good way. It’s the kind of life-changing experience that you get from any common tool that makes your life easier every day.”
To this day, that same portable charger sits in my window and it’s still going strong. Any time I need a flashlight, desk lamp, or phone charger at home or on the road, it’s ready and waiting.
WakaWaka has expanded its product line over the years, including portable folding solar panels for extra energy storage.
As for doing some good, the WakaWaka Foundation works with other NGOs to donate its portable solar powered devices in emergencies, including Save the Children, Movement on the Ground, and Habitat for Humanity. A grant from First Solar also helps the Foundation’s PV education program for training new entrepreneurs.
The Next Big Thing: Solar Powered Tonneau Covers
A tonneau cover is a flat shield that fits over the top of your pickup truck bed, creating the perfect opportunity for solar panels.
The Canadian company Worksport has been making solar powered tonneau covers for more than ten years. When we finally caught up with them in 2020, CleanTechnica’s Zach Shahan noted the advantages of putting PV panels on a tonneau cover, compared to integrating them into the vehicle’s body parts:
“For one, it can be removable, allowing you to collect sunlight elsewhere when that’s useful. Secondly, it’s probably less likely to get damaged in a minor accident. Furthermore, a work truck may have more need for an extra, remote charge from sunlight.”
Worksport has been rather busy since then. Last year the company hammered out an agreement with HATCI (the Hyundai America Technical Center, Inc.) to produce prototypes of its 650-watt SOLIS tonneau cover as well as a version of its COR energy storage system, tailored to fit Hyundai’s Santa Cruz pickup.
Portable PV Backup Power For Your Road Trip
If you need more power but you don’t need a solar powered tonneau cover, the company Goal Zero is ready with a four-panel, 50-watt collapsible PV array called the Nomad 50.
According to Goal Zero, the panels yield enough energy to run laptops, 12V fridges, and other larger-than-a-phone devices. Nomad Zero comes with cables to pair with the company’s Yeti Power Station model and Sherpa Power Bank. If you like what you see, the company also offers expansion kits for more storage.
Another solar powered generator that caught our eye is the Jackery Solar Generator, which goes with the company’s SolarSaga solar panels. The series includes a hinged panels that folds in two, with a built-in handle for easy carrying.
Gilding The EV Lily With Custom Stick-On Solar Panels
The company Owl Vans is best known for its ability to outfit your Mercedes Benz Sprinter van with practically any aftermarket product you need, or think you need. The hood of the van has mostly defied accessorizing, but Owl has spotted a new opportunity for the Sprinter as well as the Revel and Storyline vans.
The company is offering a pair of stick-on 90-watt solar panels designed to blend perfectly with the contours of the hood. Owl notes that the panels are also designed to preserve aerodynamic performance, at only 3 mm thick. The stick-on kit also includes a under-layer that protects the paint.
“The panels are made from 8 laminated layers consisting of a Dupont™ Tedlar® backsheet and high tech polymers allowing them to stand up to harsh environmental conditions like rain/snow/ice/mud/rocks/sticks etc.,” the company adds.
The panels can act as a range extender, complete with a plug-and-play controller that prevents the battery from overcharging. They can also bypass the battery and send solar energy direct to fridges, lights, and other accessories.
Owl Vans claims that its VSS System can be installed installed in as little as 1.5 hours. Here’s a YouTube video that makes it look easy, though if your DIY skills are rusty you might want to seek help.
The Ultimate Solar Powered Accessory Is Your EV
The idea of a solar powered car seemed far-fetched back when the only commercial solar panels on the market were too big, rigid, and thick for integrating with the body parts of a car. Now the dream has become reality, almost.
We were sad to hear that the Dutch company Lightyear filed for bankruptcy earlier this month after a six-year battle to bring its solar powered EV to market. That’s too bad, especially because the car finally went into production just a couple of months ago, in December. The flatter parts of the car — hood, roof, and hatch — sported monocrystalline silicon solar cells that could total up to 6,835 miles of range in sunnier areas, with a fairly decent floor of 3,728 miles in sun-starved regions (see our complete coverage here).
Happier news came from another solar powered car company, Germany’s Sono Motors. The company’s PV-enabled Sion crossover SUV has attracted a community of supporters who provide suggestions and feedback, which explains why the interior includes a strip of natural moss as a component in its climate control system.
Solar panels on the roof and hood provide for a PV-only average range of almost 70 miles per week for the reasonable price of just a hair over $30,000. Sono explains that it reached the relatively low price point for an EV of its class in part by carrying over components from other cars. Replacing paint with solar panels also helped to offset some costs.
Sono brought the Sion for a visit to the US last October, and I happened to be in the neighborhood for a test drive. The driving part didn’t happen due to a timing issue with the software schedule, but I did get a chance to sit in the cockpit and get an up-close look at the no-nonsense interior. If you’re looking for a ride that gives off high tech vibes without all the flashy bells and whistles that come with many new EV models, this is the one for you.
Sono is a diversified company that also makes solar panels for trucks and buses. Earlier this year it looked like they didn’t have enough juice from the community to make the Sion happen (see our complete coverage), but supporters enthusiastically responded to its #savesion campaign and the EU came through with additional funding as well.
It looks like the solar powered car of the future is just around the corner after all.
Follow me on Trainwreck Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Find me on LinkedIn: @TinaMCasey or Mastodon: @Casey or Post: @tinamcasey
Photo (screenshot): WakaWaka solar powered multi-purpose charger with extra PV panels courtesy of WakaWaka.
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