With so many businesses and government organisations focusing on lowering emissions and upping energy efficiency, it is no wonder that solar powered cars are becoming more and more interesting to the general public. Although we have seen leaps in recent car technologies that allow for greater efficiency such as electric powered vehicles, we are still a long way from running them 100% emission free.
Solar powered cars offer a very real opportunity for the general public to make the move to being fully environmentally friendly and eco car companies want to get in on the potential growth of this sector. In this article we ask the question of whether this is a genuine possibility. Will we soon start seeing solar powered cars on our roads?
Practicality of solar vehicles
It isn’t the most fanciful word out there, but when it comes to the automotive industry practicality is the key to success. With this in mind there is no denying that we are still a way from making solar powered cars a practical option. This is for two main reasons: solar technology and weight.
● Solar Technology
On the surface of it, solar technology is nowhere near efficient enough to actually move a car for practical use. Although there are a number of vehicles that can travel based on solar power, these are typically designed to be super lightweight and low to the ground, meaning their level of safety is not sufficient for practical use. This means that even with sufficient sunlight current technology is not capable of supporting solar powered cars, let alone in countries where regular sunlight is a rare commodity.
However, more recent technologies have seen huge increases in solar panel efficiency. At the current rate of solar panel development, it is unlikely that we will not see super-efficient panels in the next few years capable of powering vehicles. Other developments are also tackling the issue of constant sunlight such as panel that can also gather energy from rainfall.
The second technological issue we currently have with running solar powered cars is that the batteries that we would need to store the required power are so heavy that they would outweigh the power they store, rendering them obsolete.
Again, this is something that more recent technologies are getting close to remedying. Businesses are in a race to develop lightweight batteries that can hold enough from a solar charge to run a car for a comparable amount of time as traditional fuel methods. The leaders in this area include the electric car producer Tesla who has released a ‘lightweight’ battery for running your house when no direct sunlight is available. Although this tech is not ready for use in vehicles yet, it may get there sooner than we think.
Just like in the case of autonomous vehicles, it is possible we will see some cultural pushback on the adoption of solar powered cars. This is the same when any new technology comes in and changes something that we have been familiar with for years. For example, it is likely that the first commercially available solar powered vehicles will not be efficient enough to gather the speeds that traditionally fuelled cars do. This could mean that adoption of the technology is slow or non-existent, stifling the advances required to make it more practical.
However, as technology advances they will become more efficient and therefore faster. Early adopters will need to be found to raise the awareness and also fund the ongoing research into this particular area of development.
Money. Money. Money
The other big potential factor that may slow down the adoption of solar powered cars is that they will be less geared towards making money. Although it is widely accepted that traditionally fuelled cars are bad for the environment, the markup that businesses and taxes that governments make on the sales of these fuels are huge. Even current electric cars see a small amount of money going to electricity companies when you top them up.
Solar cars on the other hand will almost certainly have no ongoing costs beyond maintenance. This is great for consumers, but not such great news for the businesses and governments that benefit from the sale of fuel. However, whether this truly has the ability to stop solar powered cars getting on the road is highly unlikely.