“My car is not just 4 wheels and an engine. It’s the place where I belong. It’s my home.” - Anonymous
he love between mankind and cars is beyond comprehension. For car fanatics, like myself, cars are one of the few things which matter the most to us. It’s not just about owning a sporty, stylish car. It’s much more than that. It’s about the feeling you get when you look at one. That feeling when you sit behind the wheel and look into the empty expanse in front of you. That feeling when all that matters is how far can you go. It’s exactly like that feeling when the moving wind hits your face, and makes you feel more alive than ever. Cars are not just a piece of machinery. They’re an extension of who we are.
A quite unorthodox design for a solar car,
which actually generates maximum power.
And that is why we keep inventing new technologies for this beast of a vehicle. As much as we love cars, we can’t deny one fact: they are harming the environment. Now, obviously we just can’t stop using them altogether. So evidently, we come up with new ways, every now and then, to prevent these vehicles from degrading the environment. Biofuels, CNGs, Electric Cars, every decade or so, humans come up with alternative ways to reduce/stop the harmful emissions coming from these automobiles. And with all sorts of different technologies being used in making them better, it was just a matter of time, before someone tried a whole new concept altogether. Which is why now we have solar-powered cars as a probable solution to all our problems. At the surface, this combination seems pretty easy. However, on a further probation to its fundamental level will give you the answer as to why this technology is still a far-fetched dream.
Solar panels mounted on car roofs, an idea being
vehemently promoted by Panasonic.
First let’s talk about its immediate rival: the electric car. Now here’s an interesting piece of trivia which many of you might have never considered. We all know electric cars run on batteries. With no greenhouse gas emissions, these cars have been also termed as the life-savers of the environment. However most people tend to overlook the fact that when charging these cars, the electricity required is derived from the conventional methods of power production: thermal (using coal) and hydro (involving water). So, basically we are burning up extra coal to charge our electric cars. When you look at it this way, you can now see a whole different picture. Things don’t always seem the way they are. So, technically we can’t just call electric vehicles a sustainable for of transportation. And this is one of the debatable points in the ongoing discussion of promotion of e-cars in Germany.
Now coming back to the topic, so how do solar-powered cars function? Solar cars depend on a solar array that uses photovoltaic cells (PV cells) to convert sunlight into electricity. Unlike solar thermal energy which converts solar energy to heat, PV cells directly convert sunlight into electricity. When sunlight (photons) strike PV cells, they excite electrons and allow them to flow, creating an electric current. However, here’s where things take a drop. Commercial solar panels are known to be only 15-18% efficient. As per claims, a prototype solar car can generate 860W by solar cells — that is 1.15 horsepower, while the total power of the car is 122 horsepower. In comparison, the power generated using solar cells is paltry with respect to the required power. The proposed design of making a solar car is by mounting a thin layer of solar panels on the roof, bonnet and boot of the car, thereby giving maximum exposure to the sun’s rays. Even then, the power created and stored is just about enough to go a few miles. Another factor to be considered here is the price of these cars. If they actually go to production status, the selling price may never recuperate the incurred costs.
Lightyear One: One of the few solar powered
cars produced for commercial purposes.
So to sum it all up, there are various obstacles in the way and a lot of loopholes to be covered before these cars attain commercial viability. Yes, the technology is state-of-the-art and quite revolutionary. With zero toxic by-products, solar powered cars can be our only solution to the environmental problem. But until that arrives, we got to make do with what we have. For if anything, then at least we can revel in the fact that our problems of today, can always be solved by the instruments of tomorrow.