Although solar panels on a car create this image that you will be able to drive your vehicle for free, it sounds great in theory but is not yet practical. The primary roadblocks like cost and that solar panels designed for the top of a car would not be efficient or large enough to power the vehicle.
Toyota manufactured several Prius hybrid vehicles with solar roofs throughout the years but could not serve the U.S. market due to safety requirements. Additionally, the 2022 models do not have a solar kit. However, a new Toyota test may soon improve efficiency to 27 miles per day.
What we will discuss in this article
- Are solar panels on roofs worth the effort?
- What has Toyota learned about solar panels on automobiles over the years?
- What is the future of solar vehicles?
Most of us leave our car outside in a parking lot at work or shopping to return and get into a sunbaked car. Maybe you thought about using this solar energy to save on fuel to commute. Many engineers have been working on precisely this issue for years. Have a look below at the progress made.
Is The Prius Solar Roof Package Worth It?
It depends on your use case. In theory, the top panel may extend the car’s daily electric range by up to 3.7 miles per day. You might think that that is not very good, and you are correct that it is not very much. The Census Bureau reports that the average driver drives 39 miles each day.
So another way to look at it is to compare the cost of adding the solar panel kit to the car’s roof or adding a solar kit to your home’s roof. Compared to the size of solar panels put on residential dwellings, car roofs are comparatively small.
For example, the 2017 Prius Prime’s solar roof could only produce around 180W electricity. With this in mind, it is much better to add solar panels to your home and charge the car than to add them to the car’s roof.
Unfortunately, the new 2022 model does not have a solar panel roof option, indicating that it is not viable for car manufacturers or customers.
The Extensive Testing Of The Prius Solar Roof
Starting with the 2010 Prius, Toyota began offering a solar roof as an option. In comparison, the earlier version only produced 50 watts of power. In addition, the solar roof didn’t link to the car’s driving battery power but only provided electricity to the car’s climate control system.
Due to radio interference with the car’s sound, Toyota said that the $2000 Prius Solar Panel option could not directly connect to the engine’s battery system.
As solar technology improved, the efficiency got better over the years, and in 2017, the new Panasonic solar roof provided even more energy than the prior solar roofs. This higher watts output per square inch enabled Panasonic to produce around 180 watts of power.
So now, the solar roof could power both in-vehicle gadgets and charge the driving battery. The three-dimensional, curving roof of the Prius Prime made it somewhat challenging to add a solar panel, but thanks to Panasonic’s innovative lamination technology, they overcame that issue.
Sadly for North American Prius buyers, the same next-generation technology that made this new solar roof feasible also meant that it could not pass U.S. rollover testing. Toyota did not fix this issue, it seems.
Toyota worked with battery partners NIDO and Sharp in 2019 to put 860 watts of solar panels on the roof, hood, and rear hatch of a Prius. According to the firm, the Solar panels provided about 27.6 miles of electric power per day for the Prius PHV demo (Prius Plug-in Hybrid) on a perfect bright day.
Another thing we should consider is that solar panels are not efficient in high heat situations, and a car roof and hood will get very hot when standing in the sun.
As we mentioned before, even though the technology seems very promising, the new 2022 model does not come with a solar kit option in the U.S. So maybe we will see some improvements in the next few years.
Do Solar-Powered Cars Exist Today?
Yes, there are a lot of prototype models being tested all over the world, but there are no commercial solar-powered vehicles available at the moment.
Many people wonder why electric cars don’t have solar panels, given that we’re moving toward a more environmentally friendly world with electric vehicles and solar panels. The difficulty is not technology or science; the concept works pretty well; instead, the quantity of surface area is the issue.
Even though contemporary solar panels are far more effective than ever, the problem is that the benefit of placing them on cars would be so small that it wouldn’t make sense for companies or consumers to bother.
The Bridgestone World Solar Challenge (BWSC) is the world’s most prestigious solar-powered automobile race, in which young engineers worldwide compete using self-designed solar cars.
The Solar Challenge is a great example of solar panels cars, but we have not yet seen a commercially viable vehicle. There are, however, other companies working towards solar-powered cars like Aptera Motors, Lightyear, and Squad Mobility B.V., to name a few.
FlexiBus now equip its busses with solar panels. According to FlixBus, the new technology charges the bus battery primarily with solar energy, eliminating the need for the alternator to charge it with fuel. In addition, solar panels provide additional electricity during the summer, according to projections.
FlexiBus group attained a fuel savings of 0.44 gallons (1.7 liters) every 62 miles (100 kilometers) during the testing period. Based on a daily journey of 370 miles, this corresponds to an everyday fuel savings of around 2.64 gallons (10 liters for 600 kilometers).
Can You Use Transparent Solar Panels As Windows For A Car?
These panels are not yet available for car windscreens or windows.
However, researchers and many other companies are working on transparent solar technology at Michigan State University. According to their claims, these see-through panels can generate the same power as standard solar panels, providing additional functionality.
Have a look at this video;