When people discuss solar powered cars, it’s generally in the context of solar-gas hybrid vehicles, or the little vans used by some postal workers. Currently, modern solar technology isn’t at the level it needs to be to make a viable alternative for fossil-fueled cars, but the recent advances made in the practice of making alternative energy-source powered cars are promising to change all that.
The main issues with solar cells right now are size, efficiency, and expense. Many homeowners don’t yet have solar panels to power their homes, and it’s generally because the cost isn’t worth the amount of power and savings they can generate. With solar panels priced at several thousand dollars, thinking about the amount of energy required to move several hundred pounds of metal can make anyone hesitant to buy a solar powered car! Solar panels tend to have take up quite a bit of space as well, while producing a fairly small amount of energy when compared to a gasoline generator. This makes portability an issue, as well as the fact that the surface area of a car is relatively small and offers limited placement for solar cells. Many cars simply aren’t large enough to hold the number of photovoltaic cells that they would require to draw enough power. Fortunately, that won’t be the case for very long.
With the increase in fuel costs, more and more interest in alternatively-fueled cars is being generated. Smaller cars, like the little two-person SmartCar, are becoming more popular, particularly among young people and college students who don’t have the money for a larger vehicle (let alone all the gas it would require). Rumors of mainstream companies, like Toyota, playing with the idea of creating a small, solar-powered vehicle have been hotly debated, and the Venturi Eclectic, produced in France, is one of just a handful of all-electric vehicles on the market. Using a unique combination of power sources, Venturi has managed to make a vehicle that’s great for short-distance travel, and overcomes the deficiencies each alternative power source experiences on its own. The Eclectic has solar panels, a small wind turbine, and can be plugged in to draw outlet power and recharge. While solar energy or electric vehicles in general are not yet practicable for long-distance highway driving, manufacturers like Venturi are making steady gains in improving the necessary technology.
Even for owners reluctant to give up their gas-guzzling cars and trucks in favor of smaller cars or hybrids, there are companies that exist that can outfit a gas car with solar panels to improve fuel efficiency. More and more hybrids, as well as retrofitted gas vehicles, are appearing on the roads each day, and it’s only a matter of time before all-solar cars start appearing among them.