Why don’t we have solar-powered cars?

Discussion in 'Solar, Energy & Electrical technology' started by Muzimbo, Jun 12, 2017.

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  1. Muzimbo

    Muzimbo RANK: MAHOBHO

    May 23, 2017
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    Well, actually, we do. As early as the 1970s we’ve had solar-powered cars, but there’s a catch — a few, actually. They’re ridiculously expensive to build; they run into fuel problems at night or during cloudy days; the interior of such a vehicle can easily overheat; and they’re aesthetically, due to their need to maximize surface area.

    The closest we’ve had to a mass-produced solar car is the $30,000 Venturi Eclectic, a car that uses solar and wind to power itself. But even then, it has an electric battery that needs to be plugged in to supplement its onboard renewable power generators. On top of that, the car only has a range of 48 kilometres, and max speed of 48km/h — a Tesla this isn’t.

    A Tesla gets about 4.8 kilometres per kWh. Let's say on average the speed is 72km/h, So the power draw is about 15 kW. (Pretty efficient! That's only about 20hp.)

    Let's cover the roof and hood with solar panels. I get maybe 4 square meters. The maximum insolation at noon at the equator (we'll assume that you live in Nigeria, DRC or Angola) on that would be about 4kW. We'll use higher efficiency panels at 15%. So we're at 600 W. At the equator. At noon. We're getting maybe 4% of the car's energy usage. Once reality is factored in, you'll be lucky to get 2%. More like 300 W.

    So charging "on the go" might extend your range by 2%. Hardly worth it since those panels will cost a lot. The 300W worth of panels will charge up the 60 kWh battery (the smaller one they used to sell) in about 200 hours of decent daylight. Close to a month! So you can't even expect a detectable charge boost while you were in the grocery store.

    Even if solar cell efficiencies were up around 30% or 40% efficiency at a reasonable cost (right now those are a few hundred times the cost of 15% cells, used for things like spacecraft), the results only change by a factor of two or so. Solar cells on a car can't work out unless the car is incredibly small, light, and aerodynamic. There are competitions for solar powered cars like that. This is what they look like (not like a Tesla), weigh less than 300 kg, and use super-expensive triple-junction solar cells:

    So, bad idea for a production car. Better to put solar panels on the roof of your house, store that energy in your power company during the day, and get it back from the power company at night to charge your car. Not only is your roof way bigger than your car, but you can also get cheaper panels, since depending on your roof size, they don't need to be very efficient.

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