What are Solar Cars?

Solar car is a solar powered device in which solar energy is converted to electricity which is then used to drive the car. Solar being ever present provides a perfect fuel for the car. Solar cars are generally one or two-seater cars and are very sound aerodynamically.

Since the first attempted solar car in 1977, solar cars have always been considered as an eclectic innovation. Solar cars are still not used widely though the use of hybrid cars is on a rise. Solar cars mostly find representation from practice vehicles and demonstration cars. Solar cars do provide a great future prospect. Not only are they fuel efficient but also they provide the required comfort and are noise-free.

Working of Solar Cars

The solar powered vehicles use photovoltaic cells present in solar panels to tap in the sun’s energy. The solar panels are generally attached to the roof of the car. The car is therefore built accordingly.

The electricity produced from the cells is then used by the motor for the car to be driven. When the motor is off, the electricity produced may be stored in a battery attached. The battery stores the electricity derived from sunlight as chemicals.
Motor controllers and accelerator controls the power supply and motor voltage of the vehicle. There is no need for a gearbox as there is an electronic motor installed in the car.

For better performance, the solar cars are designed lighter countering for factors like drags and rolling resistance.

Benefits of Solar Cars

Solar cars are beneficial environmentally as well as in terms of comfort. They provide an efficient alternate to the generic cars. Having a ubiquitous source helps the car become reliable if the climate permits. Some of the major benefits that the solar car enjoys are-

  • No fuel costs – Solar cars’ motor adds no additional fuel costs in its working. With the solar energy being used, there are no utility costs attached to the project.
  • Noiseless – Contrary to gas cars, solar cars are noiseleas providing a better driving experience
  • Low Maintenance – Solar cars have electric parts and solar components which do not require much maintenance after installation. The battery if attached to the car does not require much maintenance. However regular servicing of the car is required.
  • Lighter designs – Solar cars are lightly built so that the car counters minimum drag force. This leads to the car being faster and easier to turn on bends.
  • Environmental friendly – Solar car does away with the any kind of emissions that the normal cars produce. This prevents the harmful toxic gases from causing air pollution.
  • Saves Natural Resources – The use of solar energy as a fuel source helps in reducing the dependence from the more orthodox petroleum-based products.

Limitations of Solar Cars

Solar cars draw out a few issues and limitation related to its use and working. The technology is still in its early stages and is bound to undergotechnical changes in the future. The use of solar cars is still not extensive and therefore the cost has never been affordable. Also there have been speculations about the reliability of the car and whether the batteries can be stored easily. The working of the cars and the glitches its design may have is there to be tested in the future. Here are a few major issues that the solar car faces:solar cars

  • Need of Sunlight – Solar cars works perfectly only in the presence of sunlight. When there is a deficiency of sunlight the car ceases to perform to its potential. The solution lies in either using a hybrid model where there is another fuel source or the solar car should have a generator and a battery attached.
  • Cost feasibility – Solar cars are financially infeasible for an average person. Though the cost of a solar car may come down in the future with more production and increase in demand it is unlikely to come down in the recent times. The first commercial solar car was brought out for a whopping $100,000 although the cost has been reducing at around 15-20% for every doubling of volume.
  • Large Surface Area required – Large surface area of the car roof is required for tapping solar energy. Also the efficiency of Photovoltaic cells is only about 20%. Therefore the photovoltaic cells can either be made more efficient leading to lesser number of cells being required.
  • Speed limitations – Solar cars of today can nowhere match the high speeds of gas cars in presently.
  • Batteries are expensive – Various batteries are available for the purpose of solar car. While some batteries like nickel-metal-hydrides increase the weight of the car, others like lithium ion and silver-zinc batteries are expensive and lasts for only a few miles.
  • Battery safety – The safety of the battery has always been a cause of concern for the analysts. The battery which is said to carry solar energy if leaks may cause serious health problems to the user. Therefore there is a health related danger in the use of batteries.

Case Study : Stanford Solar Car Project

A project which has been funded through donations and run largely by all the students involved, solar car project in Stanford was started in 1986. Since 1990 it has been able to build a solar car every year to compete in various solar challenge courses in America.
Last year the solar car project team made up Solastice which is a one person car. The car was analytically friendlier using various upgraded software like ESPRIT for higher speed and efficient running.

Solar cars are majorly used for scientific and developmental purposes, finding very little use commercially. The Solar car project team provides a good practical experience to all the students involved about the various operations of a solar car. This indicates that in future as the technology progresses to grow the solar cars’ usage would be increasingly widespread.

Summing it all up ..

Though underdeveloped currently, the increasing usage in the solar cars complemented with its benefits suggests that solar cars can be a force to reckon with. For that solar cars will need to develop both technically and also in terms of market usage. With usage of solar cars being confined to developmental and scientific purposes there is a lot of scope for the innovative technology.