7 Apr, 2023 @ 18:00
3 mins read

Driving on sunshine: Are solar cars the future?

New Version Of 1000 Mile Range Electric Vehicle Unveiled
May 13, 2021: A new version of an electric road vehicle that can drive 1000 miles on one charge has been unveiled this month (June 2021). ..Aptera’s Sol is described by the company as part of their range of “Never Charge Solar Electric Vehicles (sEVs)”. ..The lightweight three-wheeler is claimed to have the longest range of any production vehicle and has the ability to travel up to 46 miles a day on free power from its integrated solar panels. ..With only four key structural parts, Aptera’s unique body shape allows it to slip through the air using far less energy than other electric and hybrid vehicles on the road today. ..Potential owners can pre-order the vehicle, and can customise their Sol with various options on colour, with prices tiered by driving range: 1,000miles - $44,900, 600miles - $34,600, 400miles - $29,800, 250miles - $25,900. ..Aptera explain: “Introducing Sol, the second completed Alpha in our growing fleet of Never Charge Solar Electric Vehicles (sEVs). Named after the Spanish word for Sun, Sol’s inspiration comes from science and nature. Just as plants convert the sun’s energy during photosynthesis, Sol is designed to harvest sunlight efficiently and effectively - requiring no charging for most daily use. ..“Sol offers a lightweight structure, record-low drag aerodynamics, and a 1000-mile range. Live a life completely off the grid, driven by the sun, all while creating a better future for people and the planet. ..“The sun is the most important and largest source of energy for life on Earth. It holds the solar system together, profoundly affects our moods, and provides life-giving light, heat, and energy to Earth. While dreamed about for over half a century, we humans have not yet been able to harness the energy of the sun to transform transportation… Until now.”..When: 13 May 2021.Credit: ApteraCover-Images.com..**Editorial (Credit Image: © Cover Images via ZUMA Press)

THE Spanish government is preparing a law to ban the sale of internal combustion engines by 2040. It is part of a concerted effort to be the first European government to meet the EU’s official target of a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2040. 

Fair enough – we all want cleaner air. 

In addition to the problems of polluting emissions, when you consider that fossil fuels (gasoline and diesel) are becoming exponentially more expensive, it stands to reason that the automotive industry is heavily invested in producing emission-free electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids. 

Yet the reliance of EVs on the electrical grid system creates its own set of problems (more about that later). 

So what about a solar car? After all, solar energy is front and centre in any discussion of clean, emission-free energy – especially here in sunny Spain! 

But the silence around the topic is deafening, so I looked into it.

New Version Of 1000 Mile Range Electric Vehicle Unveiled
Photo: Cordon Press

As mentioned, the internal combustion engine is going the way of the dinosaurs. Since the Spanish government announced its intention, 31 countries, states and cities have internal combustion bans in place. 

Copenhagen, for example, wants to end all diesel sales starting next year. Likewise, Paris, Athens, Milan, and Mexico City plan bans by 2025; Norway by 2025; and France, Germany and the UK by 2040. In the United States, California, New York, and Washington have a 2030 target date for a ban in place. 

With the aim of reducing emissions paramount, it’s logical the auto industry is promoting EVs. Indeed, running cars on electricity does reduce emissions, but there are unintended consequences. 

Here in Spain, the cost of electricity has skyrocketed and costs four times what it did just a few short years ago. 

Blackouts are becoming more common everywhere: the US already has more than any other developed nation, and the situation is getting worse. Experts expect a 38% increase in electricity consumption by 2050, mostly due to the projected sales of EVs. Add to that another 10-15% increase to reflect the growth of energy-consuming industries, and power grids will be hard pressed to keep up with demand. 

Bottlenecks in the supply of batteries and the high demand for components have already caused some manufactures to suspend EV production. 

New Version Of 1000 Mile Range Electric Vehicle Unveiled
Solar car. Cordon Press

Factors like these undermine confidence in the EV and hybrid markets. But if the internal combustion engine is doomed, and there are doubts about the reliability and capacity of electricity grids, what direction does the auto industry turn?

A few established auto manufacturers including Toyota and Hyundai have begun exploring solar-powered vehicles. The first order of business has been to enable normal ‘plug-in’ EVs to use solar to top up the batteries, providing ‘an auxiliary add-on’ to extend the EVs’ range. 

Other manufacturers, mostly start-ups, are looking at ways to make cars that are totally powered by solar, or which use the grid solely as backup. Aperta Motors in California, for example, is on a mission ‘to build lightweight and aerodynamic vehicles powered by the sun that are able to handle most daily needs completely off the grid’. 

Using solar roof panels, the Aperta charging system can provide enough energy to power a daily range of 44 km (as long as it’s sunny). The average commute in the US is 30 km per day (in Europe it is 28 km), and so, for the commuter, the need to stop and charge during the day is eliminated. 

Designed with three wheels, the vehicle can achieve speeds of over 95 km per hour, and, the manufacturers claim, reduce emissions by more than 6000 kg of CO2 per year. 

At the time of writing, Aperta’s solar car is yet to pass all federal safety standards, but there is already a backlog of 12,000 pre-orders for the vehicles which cost between €27,000 and €42,000.

Germany’s Sono Motors aims to make ‘every vehicle solar for a world without fossil fuels’ and is developing an EV that charges itself. In a bid to achieve a ‘grid-free’ range of 305 km, more than 1000 solar cells have been adapted and embedded in the plastic body panels of the roof, the sides and the boot. Their prototypes use two to three times less battery power than any EV currently on the market, and already meet legal safety standards. They’re also more suited to today’s consumers, being four-wheeled, multi-passenger and traditional sedan style. 


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