The dream of solar charging

Parked on the Saida ledge in southern Lebanon, a homemade solar-powered electric vehicle – photovoltaic panels mounted on its roof – is piqued by some. Issam Abdullah/Reuters

Several startups, as well as automotive giants, are starting to install solar panels on their new electric vehicles, promising a slight increase in range, but not yet striking.

Under the scorching sun of northern Spain, the 0, the startup’s first production model, Lightyear, harvests enough solar energy to cover more than 70km for free every day. Its front hood and long roof are covered with five square meters of solar panels. Its founders, young Dutch engineers, have won several solar power races in the Australian desert.

Taking advantage of falling prices for photovoltaic panels and batteries, they are trying to apply this technology to everyday cars. The “0” aerodynamic body itself and its wheel-mounted motors allow it to consume less power than the electric SUVs that dominate the market and boast a range of 625 km on a single charge. Thus, driving a little, we could only connect it in winter, the brand promises. “The clock is ticking. We need to move to sustainable driving as soon as possible,” emphasizes Lex Hofsluth, one of its founders. Charging stations remain a major hurdle. If we don’t need it, we can scale much faster.”

Lightyear set the bar very high with this first model, with less than 1,000 units built and a Bentley priced at €250,000. An affordable version costing around €30,000 has been announced for 2024–2025.

Toyota, Tesla and Mercedes

As the market for electric vehicles is growing rapidly, several models with solar panels are expected to appear in the coming months. Toyota has already offered panels for its Prius hybrid (optional) and for its first all-electric car, the BZ4X. The same goes for the Tesla prototype pickup truck scheduled for 2023. Mercedes fitted the roof of its luxurious EQXX prototype with photovoltaic cells, which, with the same tapered profile as the Lightyear, promise 1,000 km of autonomy.

According to American researcher Gregory Nemeth, “photovoltaic panels have become so cheap that even in low-sunshine areas they are worth installing.” “Even if a car’s roof can’t fully charge a battery in a day, it can still store enough energy to get you home from work,” said an energy specialist from the University of Wisconsin, USA.

With an extra few hundred euros per car, solar power could at least offset the use of air conditioning, analyzes Gautam Ram Chandra Mouli, an electric mobility specialist at the University of Delft in the Netherlands, for his part. Be careful, however, where you park, the expert warns: it is obvious that the car only charges on the street, and even more so in winter. In addition, near the equator, it recharges much better than in northern Europe.

The sun is the future

Under the California sun, startup Aptera has 25,000 pre-orders for its first model, scheduled for later in the year, a small car with three wheels and two seats. Depending on the version, which costs between $26,000 and $46,000, it shows between 400 and 1600 km of autonomy.

Another much more classic solar model, but also affordable and ambitious, is expected in Germany at the end of 2022: the Sion. This five-seat compact is cubic and all black because it’s covered in solar panels. “We have developed a technology that spans the entire car,” explains Jona Christians, co-CEO of the large German startup Sono Motors that came up with it.

With 18,000 registered pre-orders, the company plans to produce 260,000 vehicles by 2030. Sion is integrating a Vehicle-to-Grid system that allows its charged battery to return electricity to the grid when the Sun no longer shines.

Another brand, this time Dutch, Squad Mobility, plans to launch driverless solar-powered cars in 2023. His boss, Robert Hoovers, a former Lightyear employee, sees the future of cars in the Sun: “There will be even fewer panels, more expensive, more efficient electric motors. Sooner or later, we will ride solar powered every day. »


Source: L Orient Le Jour

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