Emerging Technologies

This solar-powered car lets you drive for free

An electric car charging box is seen with Hyundai's Ioniq as an effort to reduce fuel consumption and gradually decrease the country's carbon footprint, at Revolta charging station in Cairo, Egypt, February 19, 2018. Picture taken February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The Scion can drive up to 30km a day, even with an empty battery. Image: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

John McKenna
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Electronics

Solar-powered cars look set to be hitting the roads next year, ending the need to stop to fill up on fossil fuels or charge your electric vehicle.

German manufacturer Sono Motors is taking pre-orders for its Sion solar-powered car, with the vehicles due on Europe’s roads in 2019. Other manufacturers also have solar vehicles in development. Dutch Company Lightyear says the first deliveries of its own fully solar-powered vehicle are scheduled for 2020, a year later than originally planned.

The Sion is the first car capable of recharging its batteries from the sun. Image: Sono Motors

Both the Lightyear One and Sion vehicles are covered in solar panels that can either power the car directly, or charge the onboard battery.

End of the fill-up?

The batteries in the cars offer a fairly standard range compared with other electric vehicles. The Sion has a 250km range, while the Lightyear One has a 400-600km range. By way of comparison, the Tesla Model S has a sector-leading range of more than 630km.

However, while you would need to recharge standard EVs at the end of their range, solar-powered cars could, in theory, go on and on. Even if the Sion’s battery was empty, its manufacturer says the car could drive 30km per day. Lightyear, meanwhile, says its car could run for months without being charged.

This could help overcome one of the biggest barriers to widespread EV adoption, the lack of charging points.

Image: UK Department For Transport (2016)

While EV charging infrastructure is growing in many developed economies, overcoming people’s fears of being stranded in an uncharged vehicle could prove a significant advantage for solar-powered cars.

They will also have the added advantage of being portable power plants: both the Sion and Lightyear One will allow you to power equipment from the vehicle via standard domestic plugs, as well as being able to link the car up to your house and use its panels to power your home.

Electric vehicle growth

Breaking people’s reticence toward electric vehicles - either through improved charging infrastructure or development of solar cars - will be critical as many countries and cities around the world look to ban fossil-fuel cars in the coming decades.

The Netherlands, Germany and India all plan to sell only EVs from 2030, while bans on new fossil fuel cars in the UK and France are scheduled for 2040. China, the world’s largest car market, is currently studying options for a fossil-fuel car ban.

Alongside these regulatory drivers and the promise of improved infrastructure, another of the key barriers to EV adoption could soon be overcome: price.

Image: Bloomberg New Energy Finance/Marklines

Bloomberg predicts that by 2022 EVs will cost the same as fossil fuel cars, helping kickstart a trend that could see them account for more than a third of global new vehicle sales by 2040.

Whether solar-power vehicles will join this affordability trend remains to be seen. The Lightyear One is currently being marketed at prices from $140,000, excluding taxes.

Sono’s Sion, on the other hand, is pitched to be more affordable, sitting within the market range for an average-price vehicle, which in the EU is currently around $25,000. The company is taking preorders for the vehicle at $18,800, plus $4,700 or a rental charge for the battery.

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Emerging TechnologiesNature and Biodiversity
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