Thursday, December 19, 2019

Are Solar Cars At the Tipping Point of Mass Adoption?

That's the view of Raghu Das, CEO of market research firm IDTechEx, who has been studying electric vehicles.  The reason is that for some percentage of drivers, their EV may be able to recharge without plugging into the grid.  This was an article originally published in eeNews Automotive  and reprinted in Electronic Design.
Startups Sono Motors and Lightyear announced solar family cars available as of next year. They have solar bodies rather than the useless scrap of solar roof seen on other cars.
Take the Lightyear One.  The entire body will have integrated solar cells, not just a panel on the roof.  Because of this, they claim “In extreme conditions (in winter, at highway speeds and with heating on) we guarantee at least 400 km (248 mi).”  In optimum conditions, they claim a range of at least 725 km.  The article contradicts this a little, saying it can go 740 km:
They do not have the acceleration of a Tesla, but Lightyear cheekily points out that its Lightyear One will go 740 km faster than any Tesla because the Tesla would have to stop and plug in. 
Lightyear One

When I see a claim like this, I automatically do the mental calculation.  The maximum solar energy available to charge a car is about 300 Watts per square yard, when you consider the efficiency of solar cells.  That would require a flat panel positioned optimally; that is, always tracking and perpendicular to the sun's rays.  For a rounded, streamlined surface like this car's, the amount it can recover won't be that large.  According to IDTechEx, they expect cars to get about 1 kW.  That seems reasonable.  They go on to say:
“We are clearly at the tipping point for adoption of solar on land, water and air vehicles, particularly on pure electric ones where range sells. There are now camper vans, delivery trucks, robot shuttles, buses, boats and even aircraft getting at least 10% and often all of their electricity from daylight. Many find it useful even on the sides of their vehicles. Any designer of any electric vehicle must now seriously consider solar bodywork. It is a new key enabling technology”, says Das.
They're considering a typical commuter car that might do 30 miles in a day (reported to be the American average).  The car might be capable of two hundred miles (or more) in a day, and 10% of that would be 20 miles.  Cars like that might well be at the tipping point of getting enough energy to run for a day by sitting and charging in a parking lot all day while the owner is at work. They're still not a car to take on a road trip, or to spend all weekend driving while going shopping, or other things people typically consider when they buy a car. 


  1. Electric vehicles are reaching the point where they are viable as local commuter vehicles in temperate regions. But in very cold and very hot regions they won't be able to provide both range AND heat/AC for any meaningful distance. And their charge time is STILL a major factor. All the hype and leftist wishful make believe in the world doesn't increase range, decrease energy required for keeping the cabin comfortable or speed up recharge time to a useful level. Till these issues are solved....if they can be solved....electric vehicles will always be a niche product for a niche market.

    1. Batteries have some serious compromises and drawbacks that just come with the territory. Gasoline gets oxidizer from the air while running; batteries have to incorporate the oxidizer internally and carry it all the time. In terms of watt hours/kilogram, really good EV batteries don't have 1/10 the amount gasoline brings.

      I don't want to say "they'll never figure out a better battery," but there's no "Moore's Law of batteries" and they're fighting for 10 or 20% improvements, not doubling how good they are.

  2. Maybe feasible, on good days.

    Bad weather? Snow? Rainy days on end? Dusty desert climate? Yeah, no.

    Just... no...

    This will be fine in Southwestern California, where weather is stable and predictable, well except for during fire season.

    But not in Florida, surprisingly, as we have too variable weather. Same with any state on the Gulf Coast. Same with any state on the East Coast. Or most, if not all the rest of the states.

    Live in a high-tree coverage area? Sucks to be you with one of these.

    Live in mountain country, from the relatively low-lying Appalachias to the much more vertically involved Rockies? Ahahahahahahahaha...

    Anywhere subject to more than light snow, or has a history of freezing rain (since ice cuts down solar efficiency)? Nada.

    Seriously. Just stop with solar. It works well in certain fixed applications, and certain mobile applications where one moves the solar-powered unit to a location and leaves it (like lighted signs, as long as there's a backup for the solar.)

    Gas, propane, LPG and diesel technologies are fine. These technologies, once you get ethanol back out of the gas, have the ability to not be used for months or even years and then pretty much start with minimum fuss (and you can charge the starter batteries with a solar panel, if you must.) Gas and diesel are available everywhere. Propane can be found nearly everywhere, and LPG the same. Vehicle fill stations for propane and LPG are more common in the cities and urban environments.

    Solar, and battery-electric vehicles, just are cute 'toys' with limited usefulness to most people. Hey, if it works for you, and you have the money to support it (quit reaching into my pocket to support your toy) then, sure, have an electric. If you only drive in a small range area, to and from work, that sort of thing. In good weather. With no trees around. And no dust.


    This is like people commuting to work in helicopters or by boat. Seriously. There are people who commute by either method. But it doesn't work for most people for a variety of reasons, mainly due to cash, but often due to the same variables that screw up solar and electric - weather and terrain conditions.

  3. i believe the solution is embedded road constant charging. as you drive along in the charging lane, the ev is constantly doing non contact charging. battery is always kept charged. only exception would be if you went "off grid". this solution would need to be funded by the government as an infrastructural necessity. this way ev cars would be able to drive continuously without depleting its charge.

    1. That would be nice, but what about in bad weather conditions? Dust, snow, rain?

      And when will EVs pay the road taxes the rest of us fossil fuelers pay? Instead, we 'burners' pay for their purchase subsidies, pay for the roads and infrastructure that goes with the roads that the EVs ride on.

    2. I covered that back about 16 months ago.

      The question is always "where does the power come from?" All electric cars do is move the power generation from under your hood to a petroleum fired plant somewhere else. Which means the power grid has to charge your cars and run everything else. Unless you build an entirely new infrastructure to power this charging system, the power grid doesn't have the capacity (from what I read). The grid is under its highest load during the day, including the times people are commuting. For optimum use of the existing grid, without adding tons more power plants, charging at low demand times (overnight or before dawn) is better.

      Overall, I think this is something that's too big for governments to fund. They're all teetering on the edge of bankruptcy as it is. Could a big corporation do it and charge users? Call it more possible than government doing it.

      Remember the "smart grid" stuff from about 10 years ago? The smart grid wasn't about making your life better, it was about making the generating company's life easier. With a smart grid, the electric company can turn off everyone's ovens or air conditioners to stave off a blackout. Don't count on that to keep electric cars running, either.

  4. For local commuters, sure.

    But as noted, they'll be charged a pro-rated road use fee annually, and are not capable of serious cross-country trips.

    I drove literally coast-to-coast once, from L.A. to Swamp Lejeune, on I-10/20/30/40, in 3 1/2 days.
    In an EV, it would take more like 3 1/2 weeks.
    Could do it in any reasonable time frame even with solar bodywork, with current tech.

    When I drove 200 mi/day for movie work in the SoCal area, no chance in hell I'd try an EV.

    But for a 20 mi. round trip for a steady job, and never needing to pay for gas while recharging from the sun, hell yes I'd buy one, if the price point is competitive.

    1. "Couldn't do it in a reasonable time frame..."

    2. But for a 20 mi. round trip for a steady job, and never needing to pay for gas while recharging from the sun, hell yes I'd buy one, if the price point is competitive.

      My last job was just that. Actually 12 miles/day commute, and even if the electric car is less like a "sporty Tesla" and more like an electric golf cart, commuting while never stopping at a gas station sounds pretty good.

      Reality says that raises the possibility of needing two cars: one for the commute and one for towing the boat or camping or road trips or whatever else needs to be done. Which brings its own bunch of issues (storage, maintenance, and so on).

    3. Exactly.
      Yes, because otherwise you're literally tied to your current residence with bonds of physics.

      Now, who would want you not to be able to move about the country freely...?

      When you hit 100-200 miles, and suddenly can't proceed farther for hours, unless you push your goods and chattels with a handcart, how's that going to work out in, say, Florida with an approaching hurricane, for example?

    4. And when I purchase the acreage for Camp Snoopy and the Castle Anthrax, bet your ass that ranch chores and minor affairs on the property will be conducted with a solar-recharge golf cart, pretty much in perpetuity.

      But that's not serious transportation, nor an actual tractor for actual serious work, and neither are EVs.

      They are, by and large, hobbyist devices.

  5. Nyet, petrol is fine. Collision repair is going to be intere$ting.

  6. I wouldn't throw down any hard earned money on this Edzel.

  7. At a 150,000 euro price point (per their web site), it is not a "commuter" car. Neither is it a "tipping point".

    You could buy 50,000 gallons of gas for that price, and have enough left over for a nicely restored GTO. At the 8 miles/gal that the Goat will get, that will take you nearly half a million miles. At it will take Aesop from LA to Swamp Lejeune in 3 1/2 days. Maybe faster if he gets Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields to drive.

    As a technical feat it's eye catching; as a commercial car offer it's dead on arrival.

    1. Any vehicle priced at 150,000 Anything (except perhaps pesos, or Zimbabwean dollars) is from someone fundamentally unserious, and/or high on crack.

      And at that price, the "savings" on electricity vs. gasoline is entirely illusory, since they've factored in over 1000 tanks of gasoline at Califrutopia prices, which is more than I've put in the 40 gal. tank of my SuperDuty in 11 years' driving, and with mileage equivalent to that nominal GTO.

      For $166K, the thing should do 0-60 in 2.0 seconds, and come with the Playmate of the Month as the onboard service hostess and entertainment.

      If PMOY Marianne Gravatte has a daughter of legal age who comes with it gratis, we can talk.
      Otherwise, this is a paperweight , or a hangar queen for the likes of Jay Leno et al.

  8. Or, for that matter, when it's raining or snowing, or overcast. This is a warm-climate car.

    Also, one thing you do in a hot climate is to try to put your car into a shady spot when parking. It can get uncomfortably hot inside.

    1. There's a "you know you're from Florida" list that includes, "when you judge how good a parking spot is not by how far from the door it is but by how much shade it gets." Works for the entire south.

      The two companies in the article appear to be European companies, so I really doubt they think that way. They think Americans are crazy for using air conditioning in the summer.

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