Is There a Clear Winner in the Debate Between Solar Cars and Electric Vehicles?

As the world works to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the debate between solar cars and electric vehicles is heating up. While electric vehicles are steadily gaining popularity, solar panel cars are a relatively new concept. So, how do they work?

These vehicles are equipped with solar panels that absorb energy produced by the sun and convert it into electrical energy. This electrical energy is sent to a battery, typically attached to the trunk, that keeps it stored until it is required. But while solar panel cars have some benefits, like being environmentally friendly and having a longer lifespan, they come with their own set of challenges. For instance, the amount of space required to fit the solar panels into the car is impractical. Not to mention, these vehicles are only suited to certain climates. Meanwhile, electric vehicles are eco-friendly, and come in a range of forms: plug-in hybrid, extended range, and battery cars. Experts believe they are the better alternative, since they offer convenience and better fuel economy. That said, solar panels can power other components of the car — such as the air conditioner. Plus, equipping an electric vehicle with solar panels can give it the capability to drive a few extra miles without a charge.

Swapnil’s Thoughts:

Where should OEMs and the ecosystem supporting the next generation of vehicles place their bets? Swapnil Palwe, senior research analyst at Market Research Future, a renowned global market research company that analyses markets and consumers, explained why the debate between solar cars and electric vehicles has only one winner in his eyes.

“Those solar electric vehicles and electric vehicles use the same source of energy. Mounting solar panels on vehicles is not a commercially viable idea. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, are very advanced vehicles based on modern electric propulsion, which consists of power converters, electric motors, and an energy source that is the electric battery.”

Chris’ Thoughts:

Black & Veatch engineering specialist Chris Rogge, who specializes in clean transportation solutions, thinks the framing of a debate between the two types of cars is the wrong mindset. Here’s why he recommends the industry not pit one type of clean energy vehicle against another.

“Integrating photovoltaic (PV) with electric vehicles presents a blend of technical and economic challenges and opportunities, which can result in unique vehicle designs and use cases. Balancing the form factor limitations of available photovoltaic technologies with vehicle aerodynamics, weight, safety regulations, and UV resistance cell encapsulation has proven challenging for automakers to date, limiting recent mass-produced EV and PV applications to assisting HVAC loads and trickle charging or maintaining the vehicle’s 12-volt battery. However, there are niche vehicle types where conventional proven PV technologies can be integrated with vehicles with large surface areas in consistently high amounts of solar exposure, where conventional charging opportunities are limited and required daily or weekly range is low. Typical for this application would be school buses with short urban routes, electric assists, last mile delivery vans and trailers. We’re seeing more electrification of trailers coming. Recreational vehicles can benefit from integrated photo tags, and already do, and have been for years. 4×4 SUVs that might find themselves stuck in remote locations with no charging opportunities might be able to gain a couple miles after a day or two of charging in the sun, in the worst-case scenario. And side by side, electric utility vehicles and golf carts that see occasional use can be useful applications for integrated photovoltaic on electric vehicles. And there are a number of applications [unintelligible] making use of the available surfaces on an EV can boost or supplement the more conventional charging opportunities that are currently required for practical daily use of most vehicles. And as my associate, Paul Stiff put it just the other day when we were talking about this. He said solar panel cars can become part of an overall solution that involves renewable energy generation on the vehicle and off the vehicle, but the conversation is more centered around EVs and solar panel cars, rather than versus. So, not just one or the other, but it’s an integration of photovoltaic in and around electric vehicles. And what Paul said about energy generation really brings up one of the things that excites me most about the widespread electrification of our transportation industry, which is the fact that it gives us the opportunity to power critical human infrastructure sustainably, recycle our materials indefinitely, and build new opportunities for future generations to work and live in a better future, and I love being a part of that transformation at Black & Veatch.”

Article written by Aarushi Maheshwari.

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