What are Solar Energy Cars?
In a general kind of way solar energy automobiles are similar to other everyday cars in that they have the characteristics of a car. They have a body, wheels, a motor, a steering wheel, brakes, seats, and most important, some kind of fuel to make them run.
Solar cars are different only in the fuel that makes them run. They are called solar energy cars for the reason that they use sunlight for fuel. Of course in a specific way they look very different from the common conception of a car.
- The picture to the left represents a solar-driven car, the Solar Werkstatt, found in Germany and Switzerland,. Photo is by Ange Halle.-
Even as recently as a few years ago if you saw a solar car it probably would have looked like a large cockroach on wheels.
More recently though the exposure that environmental advocacy groups and the popular media has familiarized the general public to the solar car.
The concept of driving a car with zero harmful emissions, one that is very quiet and is very low maintenance, and does not need an expensive fuel source has been the ideal of many inventors for a long time.
How do Solar Energy Cars Work?
Solar cars need sunlight to run. Most solar energy devices depend upon photovoltaic technology to convert sunlight to electricity.
-The image to the left represents the Toria Connector 2001 Solar Hybrid Car. It’s in The Danish Museum of Science and Technology (Danmarks Tekniske Museum. Photo is by A R Baurial.- It is the Danish, prototype, Toria Connector 2001 Solar Hybrid Car which has solar panels to power the car in town and a bio-diesel engine for longer runs. In order to generate sufficient electric power the car’s dimensions are a little larger than normal and seating is 3 + 3.
This principle is the same in the solar car. Solar cells are made up of a pure form of silicon. These solar cells can convert up to twenty percent of the sunlight hitting them into electricity.
This electricity is channeled to and used by the electric motor of the car if it is running. When the car is not running the current is used to charge a battery pack.
Battery power is used when sunlight conditions are not optimal. The battery pack is usually a collection of lithium ion batteries. This is the same kind of battery that operates cell phones and laptops. It usually takes only one day to fully charge the typical battery pack using the solar cell array.
How practical are Solar Energy Cars?
Solar cells can cost from ten dollars up to four hundred dollars each. As a rule, the more efficient solar cells are also more expensive. Solar powered racing cars can travel more than sixty miles per hour but they have to be covered all over with these solar cells. The cost of one of these cars can be well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The efficiency and aerodynamics of the solar car are of prime importance to achieve their top speeds of more than sixty miles per hour. Solar cars achieve a ninety percent efficiency as compared to fossil fuel cars, which achieve only an average of fifteen per cent of the energy produced that goes to moving the car.
The exterior dimensions and form of the solar car is not conducive to comfort for the rider and the driver. Solar cars being covered all over in solar cells have the tendency to heat up quickly when running under the sun. Amenities and comforts are all dispensed with because of power requirements.
Added to these problems is the question of how to run the car at night or during rainy days. All in all the future still does not look too rosy for the future of the solar car. All things considered then it will not be soon that you can go to the local car dealership and buy a totally solar powered car.
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