For the past century, Americans have been relying on cars. We have worshipped our vehicles and abide by all of their gas-guzzling needs. As useful as a car may be for quick transportation, the environmental impacts have potentially devastating consequences. With the electric car making a comeback, we may begin to feel hopeful about renewable energy having some influence on our cars’ power source. But what if we could skip over the outlet and bring the renewable energy directly to the car? Engineers are beginning to experiment with placing solar panels on cars, giving us a glimpse into the potential future of clean transportation. While a mass-produced car driven by solar panels is not yet available in the 21st century, we are seeing advances every day that allow us to believe that solar powered driving will be possible in the near future.
The first solar-powered car was invented in 1955 by William Cobb. The car could be held in your hand and could definitely not be driven by anything larger than a mouse. Since then, solar powered cars have improved greatly! These cars are actually proving themselves to be practical vehicles. While many solar powered cars are being developed for the public, their speeds vary greatly. Sion, one of the most promising solar powered cars when it comes to actually making it to the market, claims a top speed of about 87 mph. The structure of solar cars is traditionally a low-set vehicle with only a driver’s seat. However, recent designs have shown more practical car structures being used in collaboration with solar-paneled vehicle technology. Many four-seated solar powered cars are being drawn up and designed for release within the next decade. Again, Sion is perhaps the most promising. To add fuel to the car, all you do is leave it outside – it even recharges in cloudy weather. The car actually ends up having extra energy and also acts as a source of electricity for devices. Outlets are available to attach electrically-dependent products into the car (Hahn). So, not only are you no longer paying for gas; if you choose, you can also manage to greatly lower your electricity bill. With the progress that Sion is making, and with the huge amount of support the car has, it seems that this vehicle will likely be the first solar powered vehicle made available for public purchase.
We already have tons of evidence that solar transportation is capable of existing in societies of all kinds. Solar powered buses are growing in popularity around the globe. The “Tindo” bus gives people a lift free of charge (which is another great incentive to get people to choose public transport and reduce emissions). This bus can hold up to 27 people while still managing to drive nearly 43 mph (Adelaide City Council). Just this summer, Uganda unveiled a new solar powered bus, as well (holding up to 35 people) (Magorane). Not only is this seen with buses, but also boats! Solar powered boats are available to the public for purchasing, renting, and even solar cruises. Most solar powered boats are small and have photovoltaic cells on the roof of the boat, although solar-panel sails are also gaining traction (Tamarack Lake Electric Boat Company). Even planes are beginning to run on energy from the sun! Solar Impulse has been developing their plane for over eight years and recently took it around the globe (Piccard and Borschberg). Our future is changing in all realms of technology, so there is no reason that we should not see solar powered cars lining our streets very soon.
We have solar powered transportation across oceans, through skyways, and even on land. Yet we do not have a mass produced solar automobile. While the future looks bright, there is no denying that this is a milestone that we should have already crossed. Solar paneled cars have been a concept since the 1950’s. Solar buses, boats, and planes have all made a name for themselves in the world. We have solar cars. We know they are absolutely possible. However, they are only just now becoming a possibility for all people. Imagine a world where all cars are dressed with solar panels; where fossil fuels are irrelevant when it comes to transportation. Thankfully, we are on our way to this reality. It seems extremely likely that solar powered cars will be mass produced and available in the near future.
Adelaide City Council. “Tindo: The World’s First Solar Electric Bus.”
Adelaide City Council, www.adelaidecitycouncil.com/assets/acc/
Hahn, Laurin. “Sion: A Solarcar for Everyone.” IndieGogo, indiegogo.com
Magorane, Maurice. “Uganda Unveils Its First Solar-Powered Bus.” VOA News,
Piccard, Bertrand, and André Borschberg. “Solar Impulse: Exploration to Change
the World.” Solar Impulse, Solar Impulse SA, solarimpulse.com
“Tamarack Lake Electric Boat Company.” Tamarack Lake Electric Boats,
Student Author: Katie Kane
Faculty Advisor: Rob Williams
Bio: Katie Kane is an environmental studies major at the University of Vermont with a concentration in sustainability.