In the past decade or so, global awareness on the need to harness solar energy as a sustainable and renewable means of green energy has seen significant rise. Apart from roof top installations, solar energy is powering the manufacturing and services sector in a big way in countries like the USA, China, Japan, India, Germany and Australia. Very recently, a very exciting news is that Melbourne is planning to launch Australia’s first road legal solar car. More knowledge and information about solar energy will be provided on the website of Eurosolar Group.
TESLA, USA has done some significant work in harnessing solar power to run cars. The Model 3 which is expected to be released early in 2017 has already received pre-orders in excess of 400,000. TESLA however is not alone in developing solar cars or cars that run entirely on solar power.
What constitutes solar cars?
Solar power is the only fuel used by solar cars. They come in different sizes and are pretty stable. To ensure that the car runs smoothly, the driver keeps an eye on an array of gadgets to foresee possible problems. Cars not fitted with the gadgets almost always have wireless telemetry that allows the driver and/or his team to monitor energy consumption, capturing solar energy and related parameters and helps the driver to focus on driving.
Combination of technologies
The quantum of energy input needed/received by the car is a limiting factor in its design. Solar cars employ a combination of technology typically employed in bicycle, aerospace, automotive and alternative energy industries. So far, to the exception of TESLA, these solar cars have been built for solar car races. However, the astounding success of TESLA has encouraged other automotive giants like Ford and Fiat to take a fresh look at their prototypes for commercialization.
Solar cars use Photovoltaic cells
An array of PV or Photovoltaic cells is used for converting sunlight into electrical energy. Unlike thermal energy derived from solar cells for heating purpose or producing energy by using the heat to produce steam and run a turbine, the photovoltaic cells directly covert the solar energy into electrical energy. This process involves photons from the sunlight striking the photovoltaic cells exciting the electrons and allowing a flow thereby creating an electric current. Semiconductor materials like alloys of gallium, nitrogen and indium and silicon are used in the manufacturing of PV cells. The most common material used however, is crystalline silicon which has a higher efficiency rate around 20%.
Factors influencing geometry of solar array
The geometry for the solar array will be influenced by optimal power output, vehicle mass and resistance to aerodynamics, apart from other practical considerations. For instance, when a free canopy is placed horizontally, it presents about 3 times the surface area of the car with integrated cells while offering better cooling for the riders as well as the cells. Presently thin and flexible solar arrays are also under development. TESLA motors of USA are involved in research and development of solar energy for various applications including automobiles. Although there are several other industries and agencies actively pursuing research and development in solar energy, the pace and focus of TESLA has taken it to the position of a front runner in this space.
Solar energy to charge batteries
With the increasing focus on green energy, today, we already have a wide range of electric cars. In the USA, many of these cars use solar energy to recharge their batteries. Similar to the traditional gas stations, there are designated charging stations that store solar energy and transfer it to your car battery. Electric cars can run without solar energy by recharging the batteries from conventional energy sources. However, these variants have limitations in terms of distance covered per recharge and the top speed in some instances. But, some of the TESLA models now claim to take you as far as 250 miles on a single recharge and you can only expect things to improve further in the days to come.
A redeeming feature of both electric and solar cars is its contribution to our environment. With near zero carbon emissions, solar cars help reduce the carbon footprint which in turn beneficially impacts an array of issues related to climate change.
Solar car economics
Solar car economics is also impressive when you consider the running cost. Typically your fuel cost for a gas powered vehicle is about $0.20 per mile while it can come down to as low as $0.06 per mile for a typical electric car. For car owners with a residential solar power system, this cost could further come down when solar energy from your own system is used to charge the car batteries.
Let us go green and also pocket some cash doing so!