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When Will We Finally Be Able To Use Solar Power Cars?

Burning fossil fuels continues to be the greatest source of pollution for the planet, and cars are one of the leading contributors. Luckily, solar power cars are being developed that may eventually take the place of our gasoline consuming vehicles of today. However, we are still a long ways away from using solar powered cars on an everyday basis.

Most modern solar power cars are used primarily for racing purposes, with many long-distance solar car races taking place around the world each year. Unfortunately, the technology is not yet at the point where we can use solar energy as a practical means to completely power our vehicles - though if we want to go green we can still rely on alternative fuel sources for that - but solar energy is being used to power other types of vehicles already, including boats and golf carts. Several car companies have also begun producing vehicles with solar panels used to provide energy to accessories such as the lights and stereo.

How Solar Cars Work

Solar power cars work by harnessing the light from the sun and converting it into electricity. They accomplish this through the use of photovoltaic solar cells which generate electricity when struck by sunlight. This electricity is then usually sent directly to an electric motor, or used to charge a battery which powers the car. 

The size of the PV cells determines how much electricity they can generate: therefore, it is necessary to have very large panels to power a vehicle completely through the use of solar panels. Most solar racecars are completely covered in solar panels on every available inch of their surface in order to achieve the most possible energy production.

Effectiveness of Solar Powered Cars

solar carOne of the biggest criticisms of solar cars is their effectiveness. Many people believe that when the sun isn’t shining or it’s nighttime, then your solar vehicle won’t be able to run. This isn’t entirely true though, as all solar cells charge a battery when they are not using energy. However, this only means that your battery will be charged when the vehicle is not in use. 

This is why many people feel that we will never truly own solar cars, as there will always have to be a backup system for them to be practical to drive whenever and wherever. 

A lot of the focus on solar research in vehicles has gone into solar-electric hybrids which also run on batteries, or using solar power only to power some of the vehicles auxiliary functions.

The other issue with solar cars is that the weight of a modern car requires entirely more energy to move than can be generated with solar panels. This means that a modern car running exclusively on solar power would probably not be able to travel much faster than 15 miles per hour. This is why most solar powered racecars are incredibly lightweight, allowing them to travel at much faster speeds than a heavier car.

Other Solar Powered Vehicles and Developments

  • Hybrids
  • Boats
  • Golf Carts and Utility Vehicles
  • Solar Powered Racecars

Solar Hybrid Vehicles

Much research is being done on solar-electric hybrid vehicles which can run either off solar power or off of batteries. The solar panels attached to the car or the RV solar panels could also be used to help recharge the battery. While many companies have developed prototypes and plans, no one has been able to perfect the electric car or the solar car as of yet.

Solar Powered Boats

While we may not be able to use solar cars as a daily form of transportation, the same cannot be said of solar boats

solar boatSolar boats have been on the market for quite a few years, and are a quite effective means of transportation due to the decreased friction when travelling on water versus on land. 

The majority of solar boats in use in the world today are used for public transportation, with the Solar Shuttle, also known as the Alster Sun, in Hamburg, Germany being one of the most famous examples. 

This boat is capable of carrying up to 120 people at a time and cruises around Hamburg’s Alster River five times a time, going past all of the city’s major landmarks and tourist attractions. 

It has been running almost continually since it was put into service in 2000, and is considered the world’s largest solar boat.

The major advantage of solar boats is that they are almost completely quiet and produce absolutely zero emissions. Most boats use either gasoline or diesel to power noisy propellers or motors that often leak into the water creating mini oil-slicks as they travel through the water. If you are willing to sacrifice the speed of a gasoline powered motor, then a solar boat may be the ideal choice, and they go plenty fast enough to be a very efficient and viable transportation option for lakes, rivers, and even the oceans and seas. 

Solar Utility Vehicles

One of the major issues with using solar power to run vehicles is due to the weight of the vehicle. It takes entirely too much energy to move around a heavy car, but luckily many of the other vehicles people use are much lighter. There are now solar golf carts and scooters, and solar lawnmowers are even in the development stage. 

While it may never be possible to run your car off solar power, it is already possible to take a step away from fossil fuels by converting any of the smaller utility type vehicles to solar power. Several cities have already begun to look into the effectiveness of having mail carriers drive smaller solar powered vehicles for their deliveries. 

Solar car races

The majority of functioning solar cars are developed solely for use in solar car races. These cars are usually developed by engineering students and faculty at some of the world’s most prestigious universities, and corporations which specialize in solar energy or engineering. There are even some high school teams that develop and race solar cars for some races. The most well-known solar car races are the North American Solar Challenge and the World Solar Challenge. 

Both of these races require teams to build vehicles powered entirely by solar energy and race them over extremely long distances and over demanding terrain. The World Solar Challenge is a race all the way across the continent of Australia- a distance of almost 2000 miles, in a little over a week.

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