Solar Car of the Future: Sunswift Solar Two-Seater looks like an ordinary Coupe

Giles Parkinson writes that this year Sunswift is making a revolutionary and exciting entry in the annual University of New South Wales solar car competition:

This year, they are entering a new class: a two doored vehicle dubbed eVe that looks more like a car than a spaceship, with a sleek carbon-fibre body and sleek body and a sweeping profile… Patterson describes eVe as essentially an electric vehicle, with range extension provided by solar power – or an electric solar hybrid.

According to the UNSW team, the eVe will be able to do around 500kms without the sun, and a further 150kms with the sun. If it had double the amount of batteries (race rules place a strict limit), Patterson reckons it could go from Sydney to Melbourne without a recharge.

I love my Chevy Volt, but I wish it had solar panels on it so that I could park it outside in the sun and recharge it that way, or even recharge while driving in sunlight (I’m putting solar panels on my roof to attain the same effect indirectly when the car is plugged in during the day). The eVe seems to me clearly the future, as solar panels become thinner, smaller, lighter and more efficient.

Reuters reports

I’m so impatient for this to be a reality. Transportation petroleum use causes about 22% of man made C02 emissions every year, helping drive global warming.

Solar cars also reduce dependence on petroleum imports from unstable countries. Gasoline prices are at historical highs in part because of Libya, Nigeria, Iraq and Syria; do you really want to be hostage to all that as you just try to get to work? Also, when you buy gas you are often putting money in the hands of regimes like those of Saudi Arabia and Iran, interested in spreading fundamentalist religion and illiberal politics. With solar you could keep that money at home and defund such forces.

12 Responses

  1. According to NIST, it takes 33.40 kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity to get the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline. A 100% efficient solar panel, if it existed, could get about 1 kW per square meter of panel, and if your whole car were covered with solar panels I don’t see how you’d get more than 3-4 square meters. Since real panels, really good ones, are more like 25% efficient, under ideal direct sunlight you’re only going to get 1 kW of power, or 1kWh of energy per hour, and with just a square-meter panel on your car roof you’d get a quarter of that. So you could collect sun all day and perhaps get enough energy to go ten miles if the sun is strong. You’d still need to plug in unless your commute is really short.

    • 10 miles might be all I go, & if I could recharge parked outside, that would work for me as a commute.

      The panels are improving very rapidly.

    • I saw an interesting proposal once:

      Transit stations that have free parking for solar/battery-powered cars. The cars hook up to recharging stations during the day, and after the batteries are fully powered-up, they begin sending power back into the system – power that is used to help propel the trains.

  2. While EV’s are somewhat better than gasoline powered cars, ultimately if you want to have meaningful reductions in CO2 and other pollutants it makes more sense to develop electrified mass transit — rail, light rail and buses.

    The automobile (electric or not) is perhaps the single most environmentally destructive invention in history.

    We have 5KW of solar panels which produces our annual electric consumption in cloudy upstate NY, but the load drawn from charging a car would far exceed the output.

    • you need more panels; & you’re not counting reduction of gasoline burning.

      we have 10 yrs – we can all be driving electric cars in that period if we want to. we can’t redo the transit system.

      • Well, basically we are a society that is having its ability to aggregate capital for public needs destroyed by corporate power and ideological indoctrination. Every substantial American town used to have a streetcar system, but as we know that was deliberately sabotaged and dismantled. Government will never be allowed to replace cars with mass transit. So electric cars are what we’re stuck with until we’re serious about a political revolution in this country. Any volunteers?

        Or you can move to NYC, which is, per capita, the most energy-efficient place in America. 100,000,000 Americans moving out to the boondocks and putting up solar panels means:

        1. the boondocks will be destroyed
        2. roads will have to be built because…
        3. houses will have to be built
        4. then people will be further from their jobs

        See the problem here? All of this actually increases energy consumption.

    • Actually, the yearly output of 5 KW solar should match the needs of a reasonable car. You should easily be able to get more than 5,000 kWh, or 25,000 km or 15,000 miles. But I wouldn’t go off-grid, of course.

      Also, wind makes far more sense. PV is a luxury item still. And even if you match grid parity with solar due to transmission fees, net metering, subsidies and taxes, PV is many times more expensive than wind. So from the perspective of society, PV grid parity is a sub-optimization.

  3. I’m sorry, but solar panels on a Chevy Volt won’t do much. The reason is that it draws 35 kWh per 100 miles, which in 50 miles per hour translates to some 18 kW continuous draw. Since you can’t hope to get more than 1 kW of PV onto a car, your range extension is perhaps 1/18 = 6% under perfect conditions.

    A car needs to be much lighter to get appreciable range extension from solar panels. And it’s a bit hard to make it lighter if it is supposed to be a real car.

  4. Solar panels on cars are a gimmick no matter how efficient they are. It makes far more sense to have fixed placed panels in the most optimal places and plug in charging, which means you save the weight of the panels and you get the most efficient energy conversion.

    • I’m afraid you’re right. The car in the article has about 4 sq meters of panels. But using rigid silicon panels in cars (the kind that get up to 25% efficiency) is a maintenance nightmare. Cheap thin-film panels are better for this use but only half as efficient. So under ideal solar conditions, like a really hot day in Phoenix, you get at most 500 watts. But it takes several thousand watts to actually move the car down the road.

      On the other hand, if you are in Phoenix, you will need air conditioning when the sun is the brightest, and it is a severe load on the battery. The solar panels should be sized to deal with that duty.

  5. Looks like you have met your match here professor with all these technical experts !! My beef your interesting article is that you use the wretched kilometer measurement instead of miles. Most of us ordinary folk have no idea what 500 KMS means.

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